Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ronald Jones. (FP)

Mandarin, the official Chinese language, is on the verge of replacing Spanish and French as the foreign language of choice among Barbadians.

Minister of Education, Science, Technology and Innovation, Ronald Jones, made this observation last Friday evening while addressing officials and recipients of the Chinese Ambassador’s Awards, during a ceremony at the Chinese Embassy, Rockley, Christ Church.

Lashida Taylor, Tianna Scott, Monifah Coppin and Malikah Pino – all University of the West Indies (UWI) students – received the award for their outstanding performance in the Mandarin course offered at the Confucius Institute, located at the UWI’s Cave Hill Campus.

Mr. Jones said the Institute had managed to create a level of interest in the Chinese language that had not been achieved with other foreign languages. “The beauty and the music of the language is really alluring. We’ve tried for a long time to adopt Spanish as a second language with not as much success. This is interesting to me. There are some people who speak Spanish and fluent French and so on but not with the kind of focus and determination that is taken on in Mandarin.

“So that means that in the Ministry of Education, we are going to have to do a little re-looking at how we are going to deliver the languages to our citizens; our young citizens. It doesn’t mean that we are going to say not Spanish. A lot of our neighbours speak Spanish and, therefore, we have to have that facility to communicate with them and we have a few neighbours in the region who also speak French. So, we will continue that agenda. But, most definitely, Mandarin will be a major part of that foreign language agenda,” he stated.

The Education Minister explained that his Ministry had been working with the People’s Republic of China for many years in relation to scholarships. He added that after studying in China “for three or four years”, Barbadian students usually re-emerged with a solid understanding of the language. However, he told the awardees that they were at an advantage since they already had a good handle on Mandarin, if they decided to apply for any of the scholarships.

Charge d’affaires of the Chinese Embassy, Zou Xi, also expressed his gratitude for the educational collaboration between Barbados and China. “Last year, the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in Barbados set up the Chinese Ambassador’s Award in order to support the well-performing Chinese language learners at the University of West Indies, Cave Hill Campus, to further study Chinese language, as well as to deepen the educational cooperation between China and Barbados.

“In recent years, China and Barbados have developed frequent and fruitful cooperation in educational and cultural areas. Significant progress has been made in the field of Chinese language learning in Barbados under the support of the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the UWI, Cave Hill and other relative parties,” he stated.

Mr. Zou pointed out that since Chinese courses were set up six years ago, over 140 UWI students had enrolled. Additionally, the Confucius Institute, which was established in 2015, has offered courses and training to approximately 3,000 persons. Mandarin is also being taught in four local schools and the Institute is the first HSK (Chinese Proficiency Test) testing centre for Mandarin in the Caribbean.

“What makes us more excited, is that the Caribbean Examinations Council (CXC) has officially listed Chinese as one of the optional foreign language courses in the middle schools across the Caribbean region and, soon, Chinese courses will be first conducted in pilot schools in Barbados,” the Charge d’affaires disclosed.

He also challenged the awardees to become bridges between Barbados and China “to promote friendly cooperation” between the two countries, which was the original intention for setting up the Chinese Ambassador’s Awards.

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