American science fiction and fantasy writer Alan Dean Foster once claimed: “Right now, we should all be learning Mandarin.” Let’s be honest, many of us thought the utterance was fantasy or science fiction too. But some did not.
China (green) and Portugal (red) on the World map. Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Sao Joao da Madeira, a small industrial town in Portugal, certainly did not, as it has just made Mandarin Chinese classes compulsive for its eight and nine-year-old pupils, according to Business Insider. They will study the language until the end of secondary school in an attempt to gain an advantage over their peers.
Sao Joao de Madeira, located in the North of the country, is often considered Portugal’s shoe industry production capital, and specializes in some of the most expensive luxury models in the world, only less expensive than some Italian ones. While China remains by far the world’s leading shoes producer (10 billion pairs a year), Portuguese footwear brands exports to China are also notably on the rise.
The country’s government monitors the experiment closely, especially after six years of economic crisis acting more and more as a bull in a China (sorry!) shop. After having been the first Westerners to colonize China over 500 years ago, the Portuguese now seek to “open doors to the world’s biggest market,” and train youth for “sales jobs or managerial posts at factories.”
So far, children seem to enjoy taking up Mandarin and are learning fast.
“I would like to see the Great Wall,” 9-year-old Eduardo told Business Insider, while his classmate Daniela stated that “Chinese is not particularly difficult.” And think that I have been studying it for years and can barely communicate with native speakers.
Image courtesy of Flickr user Harold Groven and used and edited under a Creative Commons licence