Mandarin - A new configuration

5th June 2009 at 01:00

This year marked the debut for Intermediate 1 and 2 exams in Mandarin Chinese; next year will see the introduction of Higher. Even after being provided with specimen papers, pupils and teachers did not know exactly what to expect in the new exam.

The Intermediate 1 paper was "pretty fair and as expected", albeit with a challenging end to the reading paper, said Louise Campbell, head of languages at St George's School for Girls in Edinburgh.

However, the Intermediate 2 exam - in particular the reading and listening papers - were "quite highly challenging", she said.

The added degree of difficulty is partly because Chinese languages present different challenges from modern European ones, she explained. "The Mandarin exam is designed to emulate other language exams, but the examiners will have to decide how many allowances to make for the fact that it is a different type of language," said Mrs Campbell.

The two main differences in the languages, when it comes to exams, is that the Scottish exam system allows candidates to use a dictionary for the reading section - obviously a far greater help for European languages than symbol-based Chinese languages. In terms of the listening paper, Mandarin does not contain many words that sound similar to English.

"We might not teach the word `vehicle' in French or Spanish, but pupils would understand it because it is similar to English; in Chinese, there is no accessibility, nothing much to figure the word out," she explained.

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