How to pull a Chinese cracker

3rd March 2006 at 00:00
It was with tremendous interest that I read Judith McClure's article "Mandarin is the tongue of change" in your February 17 issue.

As a pupil I did not enjoy either French or Latin. Now, as an English teacher, my initial dislike of learning languages has unfortunately continued. In such a position I therefore empathise with many of my friends' children who feel the same way.

One friend's son, Alex, has changed my mind. Alex, as a school pupil, found English onerous and French horrendous. When he passed his Highers, he quite happily said goodbye to any further study of either language, or indeed of any language - until recently.

While at university studying engineering and business studies, he developed a penchant for things oriental - the females in particular. I firmly believe that it was this, as opposed to his interest to further his career, that has motivated him to return to further study after six years.

Like Judith McClure, he had realised the importance of being able to communicate effectively in a second language. He had also decided that Mandarin would be the language of commerce in the future. He was right. He has just returned from spending six months in China. He did not love every minute of it, but has found it extremely useful. He can communicate effectively in what is one of the most difficult languages in the world. In fact he is now looking forward to being able to apply for jobs in China.

It is a pity schools cannot capture the enthusiasm which Alex has for languages. If they could, there would no longer be a dearth of pupils in modern language classrooms.

Sandra Percy

Station Bank, Edinburgh

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