Parlez-vous Chinois?

Does your foreign language class have you in tears? Yes, we’ve seen students agonize over this particular IB component, trying to decide between the standard level course, and the infamous 400-word essay of the higher level one. Then there’s the always available choice of ab initio, an option many have interpreted as a saving grace. And though it may seem like a mammoth task just to endure one class of incomprehensible chatter, ASB’s got nothing on the schools in the Sindh province of Pakistan, in which students are not only obligated to learn Urdu, English and Sindhi from 6th grade, but will also be introduced to a fourth language in 2013- Chinese!

You may have re-read the previous sentence a number of times to make sure your eyes weren’t deceiving you. The Pakistani government’s decision to incorporate Chinese into school curricula has been met with similar reactions. On one side there’s the government pushing this scheme into action, supposedly for improving Pakistan’s already friendly relationship with China and offering students the chance to work there with ease. All that’s fine, but skeptics question the motives and very logic of the plan. While the Chinese language has been spreading all over the world and more and more people are considering learning it, one should keep in mind that for a non-native, Chinese is difficult to grasp. It takes an immense amount of effort and a long time to achieve proficiency, especially if the Chinese script is of a kind to which you’ve never been exposed, as is the case with the students of Sindh. Taking this specific situation into account, however, we begin to see how much harder it’ll be to teach these students Chinese.

According to the doubters, the proposal poses a number of obstacles: a) With Pakistan’s education system facing many hardships, the addition of an entirely new subject will further slow the progress of education, b) Students won’t be able to handle the workload of four separate subjects just in the language category, especially since two of them are from different families than the other two, c) Due to the complexity of Chinese, learning it in Pakistan doesn’t allow for proper assimilation into the language, and would end up rendering the whole project unsuccessful. And imagine the exams! Not one, but four IAs and EAs.

So while it’d be convenient and beneficial to know 4 languages fluently, the reality allows for only so many languages to be taught before students become disinterested in learning languages altogether (besides, it’s not likely that they all want to be linguists.) It’ll be interesting to see where this new path leads to and what connections or improvements it’ll bring to Pakistan and China. Meanwhile at ASB, we’ll continue attempting to legibly write at least 250 words of French or Spanish (most of it probably nonsense) before time runs out.

-Shaakya Vembar

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