Wandering China

An East/West pulse of China's fourth rise from down under.

Clamour to learn Chinese language at global schools [Straits Times]


The change is remarkable indeed – most of my peers when I was schooling in the 80s and 90s knew their parents were quite happy if they did not do well in Chinese. In their minds, Chinese was useless. Today this is the exact reverse. I think the question of rising China is almost well and truly over. From this example, it has arrived.

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Clamour to learn Chinese language at global schools
At least 5 make subject a must, while others have good take-up rates
By Jane Ng
Source – Straits Times, published Feb 3, 2011

REMARKABLE CHANGE IN ATTITUDE 'Expatriate parents used to say 'No, I don't want my child to learn Chinese...' A few years ago, they started saying 'Please let my child learn Chinese. Mandarin is the future'.' Ms Elaine Goddard-Tame, head of One World International School. Photo - ST Samuel He

IF YOU close your eyes, you might think you are in a classroom in China when it is actually a class of children of different nationalities speaking Mandarin.

At One World International School, all children take Chinese, the only other language offered apart from English.

One World is among a group of foreign system schools that make Chinese compulsory for their pupils.

A check with 20 international schools found more than half offer the subject. At least five, including the Australian International School Singapore (AISS) and the Tanglin Trust School, make it compulsory for their preschoolers and primary school children to take the language.

Older students usually have the option of studying other languages such as French or Spanish. Some schools, including Stamford American International and EtonHouse, offer a choice of foreign languages at lower levels, but at least 80 per cent of the children choose Chinese.

One World head Elaine Goddard- Tame, who used to run a school in Hong Kong, said she has seen a ‘remarkable change’ in parents’ attitudes in the last 10 years. ‘Expatriate parents used to say ‘No, I don’t want my child to learn Chinese, what would they want Chinese for?’ A few years ago, they started saying ‘Please let my child learn Chinese. Mandarin is the future’,’ she said.

The school opened in 2008 and its 110 children aged three to 12 attend Mandarin lessons every day for 20 to 40 minutes.

At Stamford American International School, four out of five pupils aged two to 13 take Mandarin for an hour every day. Its Chinese department is now the biggest in the school.

With more expatriate parents asking that Chinese be taught, the international schools are offering more classes and beefing up their expertise.

Six months ago, the Singapore American School (SAS) created a new position of director of Chinese language and hired curriculum specialist Susan Zhang to improve its Chinese programme. At SAS, Chinese is offered twice a week for all children aged three to 11. They learn the language through stories and songs.

The school started the preschool- and primary-level Chinese programme with just three teachers, but it now has 10.

Meanwhile, EtonHouse International will start a bilingual primary-level programme in September where both English and Chinese teachers will be in the classroom at the same time. At its branch in East Coast, which offers Asian languages such as Chinese, Japanese and Hindi, 90 per cent of the 500 students chose Chinese, said its founder Ng Gim Choo.

As well as teaching the language, these international schools also delve into Chinese culture. At Excelsior International School, pupils performed a peacock dance as part of Chinese New Year celebrations. The school is also planning to start Chinese lessons for parents in April.

At both the Tanglin Trust School and AISS, at least 65 per cent of students take Chinese. At United World College Southeast Asia, the subject is not compulsory, but almost half of the 2,900 students at its Dover campus take it.

Many parents, like Filipino housewife Rizza Bostock, 44, believe the language will come in useful.

‘My husband and I don’t speak Mandarin, so we tell our three children Chinese is the language of the future with China’s growing power,’ said Mrs Bostock.

Housewife Lidija Milohanovic, 34, from Serbia, is enthusiastic about her daughter picking up the language. She has downloaded a Chinese programme online and is learning the pronunciation with her daughter Ana, eight.

‘We learn two words every day and I’m very proud of Ana when she scores full marks for Chinese spelling,’ she said.

Without the pressure of exams, the children take to the new language easily, say Chinese teachers at the schools.

Seven-year-old Ava Bowden from Ireland said she loves the subject even though pronunciation is tough. ‘I have to teach my mum so she can test me on the words. Sometimes she gets the pronunciation, sometimes she doesn’t,’ she said.

janeng@sph.com.sg

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Filed under: Beijing Consensus, Charm Offensive, China Daily, Chinese Model, Culture, Education, Environment, Influence, Lifestyle, Nationalism, People, Public Diplomacy, Singapore, Social, Soft Power, Straits Times, Strategy, The Chinese Identity, The construction of Chinese and Non-Chinese identities

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