Mandarin in the UK: Insight from Tesco’s Chairman

This article details some of  Tesco Chairman David Reid’s recent comments on the state of Chinese learning programs in the UK.

Echoing the recent comments of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr. Reid made the following statement about the importance of teaching Chinese in UK classrooms: “…The unprecedented speed and scale of changes in China means the UK cannot afford a slow transformation, as that will deny British young people the support they need to best prepare them for a future in which China will play a big role.”

I haven’t seen much in the way of industry leaders encouraging people to learn Chinese. I appreciate Mr. Reid’s comments. More business leaders should speak out in favor of learning Chinese (with appropriate respect given to some of the difficulties of learning the language).

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2 Comments

Filed under The Learning Chinese Craze

2 responses to “Mandarin in the UK: Insight from Tesco’s Chairman

  1. Richard Sharpe

    I suspect that those people who are capable of learning Chinese are probably not in need of encouragement.

    I have come to Mandarin after spending many years learning Cantonese at home and away from Hong Kong or other places where Cantonese is spoken all the time. Of late I have found some Cantonese courses I can take and my Cantonese is improving, but I will really need to spend time in HK or Guandong to become fluent.

    Along the way, I have had to realize that Mandarin tones are different to Cantonese tones and that it is not just tone and stress that are different, it is also syllable timing that is different.

    There are many problems faced by the learner of Chinese languages, and it seems that even teachers of Chinese have not thought of some of these issues. Of course there are basic pronuciation issues, and it seems to me that any Romanization system is going to have its deficiencies. Chief among those are that we learners have usually spent a great many years associating one set of sounds with a string of letters only to have to learn another set of sounds (eg, I have encountered many Americans who want to pronounce /wo3/ like whoa, while to a non-rhotic speaker of English like me, ‘war’ is a closer phonetic) , and sometimes several sets of sounds (Pinyin is inconsistent, the letter ‘i’ encodes at least two sounds).

    Next up are that few courses seem to tackle the issues of tones-in-context, especially third tone, although I notice from one of your references to Sinosplice this is now getting some attention. As someone who as absorbed a lot of Cantonese, third tone presented a lot of problems, because third tone is close to fifth-tone in Cantonese, but I soon learned that it is not, it stays low most of the time and only rises for isolated syllables or end syllables.

    However, I feel that an even bigger issue is that the grammatical differences are very large (eg, VO forms, resultative complements. aspect) and learning different systems for the assignment of meaning (eg, put on clothes, wearing clothes, taking off clothes, with Cantonese and Mandarin using aspectual or close to aspectual modification of the verb to indicate the first two [joek3 gan2 vs chuan1 shang4 vs joek3 jyu6 vs chaun1 zhe]).

    Damn, I have to move to a computer where I can enter Chinese characters.

    So, I think it takes someone who is probably two SDs above the mean to really learn Mandarin … and the government and business leaders can encourage people all they want, but it probably wont produce much in the way of results.

  2. Richard Sharpe

    Following on from my earlier comment, I actually think that Bopomofo would be a better approach to teaching Mandarin than Pinyin. With Bopomofo it is unambiguously clear that we are not dealing with English (or French or whatever).

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