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Even our toddlers will get a taste of China as 100 schools roll out classes and events

By Anna Maguire

Do you know your hello from goodbye in Mandarin?

Your child might, after a crash-course in the language is rolled out in more than 100 schools in Northern Ireland.

Even toddlers will get a taste of the Chinese language and culture next year as 22 Mandarin teachers arrive in Northern Ireland to deliver classes in nurseries, schools and further education colleges.

Classes, conferences and events will start in January, with the programme expected to become a permanent feature here.

Eight 'Confucius hubs' in grammar schools, primary schools and one further education college were officially launched in Stormont's Parliament Buildings.

They have been set up and funded by the University of Ulster's Confucius Institute.

The eight hubs are: Aquinas Grammar School and Grosvenor Grammar School, both in Belfast; Bangor Academy; Millburn Primary School, Coleraine; Downshire School; Lumen Christi College and St Columb's College, both in Londonderry; and South West College, Enniskillen/Omagh/Dungannon.

Those hubs will be attached to 111 partner schools including primary and post-primary schools in socially deprived areas.

"This significant investment from China means that youngsters can study Chinese from primary school through to final degree," Professor Pól Ó Dochartaigh, Dean of the Confucius Institute, said.

The University of Ulster's Confucius Institute was opened by China's most senior female politician, Madame Liu Yandong, last year to develop ties between the two countries.

It operates in partnership with the Zhejiang University of Media and Communications in south-eastern China, with support from the Education Department in Hubei Province, central China, and the Department of Education here.

"(This) highlights the ever-strengthening bonds of friendship, education, culture and commerce between Northern Ireland and China," First Minister, Peter Robinson, said at the launch of the initiative.

China's economic rise has challenged the dominance of the English language for several years.

In January, Dr John Quelch, former dean of the London Business School and the ex-senior associate dean at Harvard Business School, said that British schools should employ some of the thousands of Chinese students studying in UK universities to teach children Mandarin.

Mr Quelch is dean of CEIBS, the leading business school in China.

But even Mandarin language enthusiasts believe that English will remain popular as long as Hollywood exists.

BACKGROUND

Mandarin is described as a very difficult language for Westerners to learn. With no alphabet and thousands of different characters – around 60,000 – different tones can transform one word into another one.

Unlike most Western languages, four-and-a-half tones are used in Mandarin, which means that a single word can have many meanings.

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