Education Quandary

Would it be useful for my children to learn Chinese? Where can they get lessons?

Anyone who visits China these days can see it is poised to take over the world. Its economy is growing at a phenomenal 9 per cent a year, and there is an industry and purpose there that makes the West look disturbingly complacent.

Ambitious New York parents have been signing their children up for Chinese lessons for years. Now the idea is catching on here.

But it's not easy. A few primary and secondary schools are trying it, but opportunities for learning Mandarin, the official language, are limited. Most teaching of Chinese before secondary school takes place in the Chinese community, which is mainly Cantonese-speaking, rather than Mandarin.

You could contact the British Council, which is developing links between British and Chinese schools, or look for a private tutor. Or you could search the internet for an introduction to standard Chinese (start at www.schoolsnetwork.org.uk and navigate through specialisms: languages - Chinese network - weblinks).

Bear in mind that the language is structured differently from English, and that you probably need to know 2,000 characters to make progress, so your children will need to be enthused to keep at it.

China is pushing ahead with English teaching. When schools link up, British pupils are impressed by how well their Chinese counterparts speak English.

Readers' advice

Move to Solihull! Arden School and Language College offers Chinese - I believe from Year Eight on - and has links with a language college in Shanghai, including exchange visits for teachers and pupils.
Viv Brown, Solihull

Under the National Languages Strategy for England, which will offer language teaching for every primary-school child by the decade's end, many primary schools will already be planning to introduce a language, or may have done so. Find out what plans there are in your local area and whether Mandarin or Cantonese could be offered, although French, German and Spanish are also useful. Learning any language from an early age offers huge advantages. Once you have learnt one it is easier to pick up another, so parents shouldn't feel disappointed if the language of their choice is not offered from the outset.
Tamzin Caffrey, CILT, the National Centre for Languages

One of the strengths of the Girls' Day School Trust is modern languages, and a number of our schools offer (or plan to) Mandarin, including Blackheath High, Portsmouth High, Croydon High, Sheffield High and Heathfield. We intend that every GDST student has an international dimension to their educational experience, opening up new opportunities.
Maureen Bosch, The Girls' Day School Trust, London SW1

Next week's quandary

My daughter started a drama course in Leeds this autumn. She has been there a month and says she wants to come home. She says the course is not what she wanted and she hasn't made good friends. Should we encourage her to stick it out longer, or accept her view that she has made a wrong choice?

Send your letters to Hilary Wilce, to reach her by next Monday, at 'The Independent', Education Desk, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS; or fax 020-7005 2143; or send e-mails to h.wilce@btinternet.com. Please include your postal address. Readers whose letters are printed will receive a Berol Combi Pack containing a cartridge pen, handwriting pen and ink eraser.

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