Monday, 2 July 2007

Chinese Crackers

On Saturday morning my daughter produced a letter from the murkiest recesses of her school bag, asking if any parents would be interested in paying for after-school lessons in Mandarin Chinese next year.
That would be lessons in the notoriously difficult language that has over 200 basic characters and four tonal variations, then? For nine year olds? For half an hour a week? It was one of those classic examples of not knowing whether to laugh or scream. So I did both, and screamed with laughter – causing plenty of alarm for all witnesses, since I am usually grimly silent when I’m in my dressing gown.
I try to keep my cynicism under wraps when I am around the children (which is why I don’t talk to them much), so I had a hard time explaining to her why this was such a preposterous idea, without employing the terms ‘half-baked’, ‘pushy parents’ or ‘total insanity.’
I am convinced these lessons must be some knee-jerk reaction from the otherwise sensible headmistress, in response to the beady-eyed contingent of mothers who are constantly looking for that extra competitive edge for their children.
A quick whiz around on Google reveals that Mandarin Chinese is considered to be one of the most ‘economically useful’ languages to learn, for obvious reasons, and will make those who can master it attractive to future employers.
All very true, and in the case of nine year olds, all very depressing.
I can’t help thinking that the school’s efforts might be better spent on improving the provision for sport in the summer term. Even when it hasn’t been raining, there have been constant cancellations of rounders lessons (because the grass is slippy) or athletics lessons (because the track is slippy) or swimming lessons (because the water is slippy).
I seem to remember that when I was at school, there was a similar belief that the burgeoning South American economy meant that you would be virtually unemployable unless you could speak Spanish, or even better – Portuguese. There must be thousands of people my age who are now seriously disillusioned to find that the only benefit resulting from years of intensive Portuguese study is that they can order a Caipirinha off a ladyboy at a Mardi Gras carnival.
A scout around the Drunk Mummy Wine Vaults to unearth something Portuguese has produced just the one bottle of Tesco Finest Touriga Nacional (£5.99). It is very robust, and tastes slightly of prunes. I think that means I ought to have another glass – for the roughage, of course.
I was reading on Google that the four tonal variations in Mandarin Chinese can result in a word like ‘ma’ meaning either a mother, a horse, hemp, or a reproach, depending on the tone. Looking at that list, it would make you convinced that there is some sort of embedded word association going on there too.
Perhaps ‘pa’ can mean (depending on the tone) a father, a rat, beer, or leaving the toilet seat up.

22 comments:

Elsie Button said...

ha ha how funny. although i bet there are loads of mothers enrolling their kids as we speak. will your kids be enrolling?

i love the: 'There must be thousands of people my age who are now seriously disillusioned to find that the only benefit resulting from years of intensive Portuguese study is that they can order a Caipirinha off a ladyboy at a Mardi Gras carnival.' line!

Stay at home dad said...

Like the lottery, it's another licence to take money from deluded people isn't it...

lady macleod said...

pithy as always! you know... I was thinking... I've had a relaxing day and it has that effect. It would be lovely (for us your readers, work of course for you) if you were to put together a summary of wines every three or six months or so in a post, so that those of us who are lazy can print off a list of what to drink for the next three months.

What do you say eh? We will get you on Oprah yet!

mutterings and meanderings said...

My journalism tutor could speak (and write) in mandarin Chinese, but that's only because he went to work there and learnt it as an adult.

i've managed fine on English and a smattering of Latin ..

Mya said...

Paddy (pants) Ashdown is fluent in Mandarin Chinese - be warned. They'd be better off learning the excruciating language of text speak, emoticons and all that other b*****ks kids seem to communicate with so effortlessly these days. I hate it. Pah.
A grumpy Mya

expatmum said...

For some reason, when our school was trying to address the lack of languages offered to kids 4-11, Mandarin was the most requested language. (They ended up teaching Spanish, which I find I need on a daily basis when trying to buy groceries in the USA.)

sufferingsummer said...

I came here by way of Mountain Mama and will most definitely return...I find it quite fun, and I'm always up to learning about a new drink or two, or three...I'm not so up for learning Mandarin but then I could probably join all those other 9 year olds whose parent's are suckered into shelling out for those silly lessons.

Sylvia said...

Hee hee - you poor thing. Anything out of the depths of one of our school bags has generally been there so long it is well out of date, thank goodness.

You don't mention whether DD is interested in taking the lessons . . . ?

jenny said...

How about sign language?? Any lessons offered in that? I would learn spanish over mandarin, but that's just me. Having to learn 4 different tones for the same word would drive me to the loony bin! I would forever be repeating in a loop hoping one of them sticks! Pass! And a half hour once a week? Hardly long enough...

DJ Kirkby said...

My highly intelligent brother took Mandarin classes when he was 15, anf got an A. However he failed English that same school year! Possible explainations on the back of a postcard will be gratfully recieved by my mother...

Mopsa said...

Chinese crackers indeed. Not having offspring I watch gladly from the sidelines as friends get their knickers twisted, trying to do the right thing for their children. I feel old just saying "it wasn't like that in my day". Adults came first then - I suspect this generation of adults came second in childhood and now second in adulthood.

Motheratlarge said...

Cracking posting, Drunk Mummy! Four tonal variations, indeed. I'd think they'd be better off with learning French - lots of lovely holidays, and nice wines in that language. The Chinese don't even make wine, do they? Probably not allowed to export it, if they do. All the best stuff would go to the Comintern.
You and I must be about the same age, I remember all those promises about the benefits of Spanish....

The Good Woman said...

Four tonal variations. I'm dumbstruck by the sheer potential to offend, Drunk Horse.

Akelamalu said...

My limited knowledge of Chinese means I can just about order Dim Sum!

Natural Blonde said...

My uncle lives in Thailand and on a vist a few years ago I was to be found with all sorts of Thai step-cousins (we're all in our thirties and forties so it's not as bad as it sounds) trying to repeat a thai sentence that has the same word but with SEVEN different tonal variations and therefore meanings in it. No idea what the word was or the sentence but there you go...mandarin chinese..no probs!!!!

debio said...

My daughter's school is to offer both Mandarin and Spanish next year. If they teach it to the same standard as the, compulsory, Arabic then there is no hope for their pupils' future careers. Still favour Arabic as the language du jour though (apart from English which is, and should be, the language of the world) - the petro language to compliment the petro dollar!

Rob said...

Personally, I think anyone who can fluently order a caipirinha - I think of it as the peasant's drink - from a fully-conversant, oiled-up ladyboy is way ahead in the smart-person stakes anyway. That way's the future, DrMmy!

Mr Farty said...

Only half-an-hour a week? That's ridiculous, you must be able to get rid of them for longer than that! Sign them up for Chinese, Spanish, Portugese and Latin. Then they can grow up to be tour reps to China, Spain, Portugal and, um, The Vatican?

Omega Mum said...

According to Slummy Mummy in Times, the top people's nanny of choice is these days a Mandarin speaker because this is top language of choice in which to reach what's predicted to be top global force i.e. China. Just train your child to be evil dictator - and she can just ensure we all keep on speaking English instead.

rilly super said...

Our local school has yet to embrace chinese in the curriculum drunkmummy but does quite well on that front already with most children leaving school functionally illiterate in at least four languages

Crystal Jigsaw said...

I wonder sometimes if any works actually gets done at school with all the extra's.

Drunk Mummy said...

elsie - no they won't be enrolling. I am concentrating on teaching them a few choice Anglo-Saxon words instead.

SAHD - absolutely, by preying on the daft insecurities some parents have about their children's future.

lady macleod - that's an interesting idea, although not everyone likes the same wines as I do. I did think about doing a 'Cheap Fizz League Table' though.
Btw, I bet Oprah doesn't drink!

M&M - I bet he didn't find it a breeze to learn, either. What chance do nine-year-olds have?

mya - you are right, texting in long hand (as I do, with correct punctuation and capital letters) certainly marks me out as a dinosaur!

expatmum - so the linguistic madness is a trans-Atlantic thing!

Hello suffering summer!
Making them learn the times tables was excruciating enough. Can you imagine trying to get them to learn 200+ basic Chinese characters?

Hello sylvia!
No - she wanted to do netball instead - thus ruining her chances of ever getting a decent job.

Jenny - if we taught our kids sign language, then wouldn't it eradicate the need for learning all these languages anyway? Is signing fairly universal?

djkirkby - oohh no! Does he remember any Mandarin now?

mopsa - I couldn't agree more. Talk about being born in the wrong generation!

mother at large - do you think it was a conspiracy caused by a surfeit of Spanish teachers?

the good woman - Ha! Absolutely - I am already quite capable of offending in English!

akelamalu - I can do chop suey and chow mein too!

natural blonde - seven tonal variations! How do they manage after everyone has had a few beers? That's probably why Thai beer is like monkey's wee-wee.

debio - I would have expected the Arabic to be extremely well taught in Dubai. Surely they can't be short of teachers?

rob - I think you may be right, but I've definitely been taking my holidays in the wrong place!

Hello Mr Farty!
I like your idea! Just think of the fab holidays I could take in the future, 'just visiting' them.

omega mum - it will be interesting if all this language hothousing results in legions of highly qualified multi-lingual nannies.

rilly - I think you need to employ one of these multi-lingual nannies for your little darlings. You may have to come up with some substantial incentives for them to move to your locale though (sigh!)

crystal jigsaw - I don't suppose the school cares about that, as long as the delusional parents are happy.