China's teachers fall for the language of heaven

Exchange scheme forges linguistic links between Welsh and Mandarin

Andrew Mourant & Nicola Porter

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Welsh lessons could soon be taught in China. Teachers from the industrial city of Chongqing are learning how to say "bore da" ("good morning") after they "fell in love" with Wales and its language.

It followed a visit by Welsh heads and curriculum advisers to the Chinese city in March.

The 20-strong party was led by Vernon Morgan, education director for Carmarthenshire. He arranged the trip to learn more about Mandarin and how it could be taught alongside Welsh.

Since the visit, arranged via the British Council, three Chinese teachers have come to west Wales to teach basic Mandarin and other aspects of Chinese life.

They are said to have taken the Welsh culture to heart, and are sending back tales of rugby, love spoons and sheep to their schools and families. According to heads, they find learning Welsh difficult, but the language will catch on in schools back home.

Mr Morgan sees "no reason" why Mandarin should not become part of a wider curriculum. "It depends on the way it's presented," he said.

Lampeter and Cardiff universities are working jointly to see how the teaching of Mandarin could be adapted for students in Wales.

They have applied for joint funding from the Chinese government and the British Council to develop language teaching in 31 schools, linked to Chongqing.

"Although Chinese characters are pictures, if you can remember the essential parts, you can build up from there - it's really quite fun to learn," said Dr Yanxia Zhao, a tutor of Chinese history and religion at Lampeter.

Ysgol Dyffryn Taf is one school trialling Mandarin. Head Robert Newsome took part in the trip to China. "There are three teachers - one in Coedcae, Llanelli, one here, and one floating between the two schools," he said. "Ours, Zhu Xuelian, is a secondary specialist and with us three days a week."

During the three-month pilot, Mandarin has been available to Year 11 in the lunch hour and timetabled for Years 12 and 13.

Mr Newsome said: "It will give the pupils a considered view of the language's difficulties and whether or not they're interested in it. But it's going very well."

The scheme is funded by an Assembly grant and supplemented by Carmarthenshire local education authority. The three Chinese teachers are also here to learn about Wales and its education system.

About 50 pupils at Dyffryn Taf are sampling Mandarin. "For some it's because of their love of language," said Mr Newsome. "Others see the potential of developing conversational skills with a nation impacting on global markets."

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Andrew Mourant & Nicola Porter

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