SHARE
COPY LINK

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

Chinese classes take off as Spaniards eye future

A newcomer is muscling its way onto Spain's booming foreign language market: alongside stalwarts like English and German, Mandarin Chinese is gaining popularity as an option for Spanish children.

Chinese classes take off as Spaniards eye future
Spain's regional governments are expanding Chinese courses in their subsidized language centres, while some public schools are offering them as an after-school activity. Photo: Gerard Julien

"Xiang jiao! Banana!" says Fu Huijuan, beaming as she waves the fruit in front of her three-year-old pupil, Leon, at a Madrid nursery school.

He and his four classmates have barely learned to speak even in their native Spanish, but already they are absorbing Mandarin Chinese — as are many adult Spaniards concerned for their job prospects.

"Xiang jiao," Leon replies in a tiny voice, grinning as he is rewarded with a bite of banana and a sticker. "Xie xie. Thank you."

Fu's class — offered free for the first month — is the newest after-hours activity for children at the TEO private nursery, whose parents hope it will pay off later in life.

Numerous schools and language centres here have started holding such lessons as Spaniards look to China's fast-growing economy for opportunities after five years of on-off recession in Spain.

"Chinese seems to me an essential language in today's world, and the best way to learn it is from an early age. Learning it as an adult seems much more difficult," says Leon's mother, Sara Vergara.

A long-term strategy

"It is a long-term strategy, for his job prospects in the future," adds Vergara, a 33-year-old housewife, arriving to pick Leon up from the class.

"And I think he is enjoying himself."

Pilar Alvarez, director of TEO, said the nursery launched the after-hours Chinese lessons after seeing that many other schools in Madrid were doing so.

"After the second or third class, the kids start really getting into it," she says. "We are considering introducing it bit by bit for all the children during normal school time."

Regional governments in Spain are also expanding Chinese courses in their subsidized language centres, while some public schools are offering them as an after-school activity.

A programme of free classes jointly funded by the Andalucia government and the Chinese state has seen enrolments nearly double since it started two years ago, to 1,200 for this school year, the regional education ministry says.

It estimates that 30,000 people are currently studying Chinese as a foreign language in Spain. No such figure was available from the national education ministry.

"China is expected to be the leading world power in a few decades," the Andalucia ministry said in a statement. "This is driving a boom in the number of people studying its language and culture."

Madrid's network of official language schools has taught Chinese since the 1960s but demand has surged recently, said Maria Jose Garcia-Patron, head of secondary education and professional training in the regional education ministry.

"Demand for these lessons was stable for 40 years, with about 80 or 90 students enrolled, but over the past 10 years the number has grown markedly and has reached about 300," she told news agency AFP in an email.

The recent crop of students in Chinese seem undeterred by its alien systems of intonation and writing that many see as challenging for Western learners.

"It is a bit hard to write, but I think it is easy to teach children to talk," said Fu. "Children have good memories."

Fu, 25, came to Spain six months ago and applied for the teaching job with Bambu Idiomas, a private company that organises classes for schools and individuals of all ages.

"There are lots of opportunities in Spain. Lots of families are looking for Chinese teachers, and now lots of nurseries too," she said.

Set up in 2011, the family-run company had 87 pupils signed up last year. This year the number surged to 235, said one of its Spanish founders, Ruben Camarero.

"It is an important language for the future," he said. "We decided it was a language that would interest people because Spain is in an enormous economic crisis and China is drawing a lot of interest worldwide."

In the classroom, Fu plays from her laptop the nursery rhyme known in Europe as "Frere Jacques", sung in Mandarin in a version well-known to Chinese children.

As she repeats the names of fruit to the five toddlers, correcting their intonation, four-year-old Angela jumps around excitedly, her long brown hair whirling.

"Banana!" she yells. "Xiang jiao!"

Some 165,000 people of Chinese descent currently live in Spain, according to Spain's national statistics institute, the INE.

The community has grown six times in the last decade with 13 percent of Spain’s Chinese community actually born in Spain and some 70 percent coming from the regions around Qingtian and Wenzhou

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.

LANGUAGE AND CULTURE

The essential Catalan phrases you need in Catalonia

Even if you speak Spanish, if you're living in Catalonia, it's a good idea to learn some Catalan too. Here are some basic phrases you need to get by.

The essential Catalan phrases you need in Catalonia
Image: Photos_Marta/ Pixabay

While everyone in the bigger Catalan cities such as Barcelona or Tarragona will speak Spanish, it’s a good idea to learn some Catalan too.

Not only is this sure to win you some brownie points with the locals, but it will enrich your experience of living in the region and allow you to make new friends. This is particularly true when travelling to the smaller towns and villages in rural Catalonia too.

Greetings

Greetings are a great way to start out practicing your Catalan. Your neighbours will be delighted and appreciate greetings in their local language. Because the phrases are short, they’re easy to remember and don’t invite long answers that you won’t be able to understand.

Bon dia – Good day

This phrase is used all the time in Catalonia, even more so than ‘Hola’. You would use it for greeting someone anytime up until the afternoon, after which you would say 'Bona tarda'. 

Encantat! Molt de gust! – Pleased to meet you.

Com estás? – How are you?

Bona nit – Good night

Greetings in Catalan. Image: Andrea Piacquadio/Pexels

 

Being polite

Another very easy way to slip in some Catalan here and there is to use it in small polite phrases. Even if you don’t know the Catalan for the whole phrase, you could easily add please or thank you on the end.

Si us plau – Please

Moltes gràcies – Thank you very much

De res – You’re welcome

Saying thank you in Catalan. Image: Ka Young Seo / Pixabay 

Eating out

When you’re a bit more confident with your Catalan, eating out is the perfect time to put it all into practice. You don’t have to keep the conversation going a long time and there are particular useful phrases that you can memorise.  

Teniu una taula per dos? – Do you have a table for two?

La carta, si us plau – The menu please

El comte, si us plau – The bill please

No puc menjar… – I can’t eat…
This one may be useful if there’s something that you’re allergic to or can’t eat, such as gluten or dairy for example.

Eating out. Image: Ji-yeon Yun / Pixabay 

Shopping

Like eating out, shopping is another perfect chance to put your Catalan out in the real world.

Quant costa això? – How much does that cost?

Tens un altre color? – Do you have a different colour?

Tens una talla més gran/petita? – Do you have a bigger/smaller size?

Pots ajudar-me? – Can you help me?

 

READ MORE: Ten colourful Catalan phrases you should learn right now

SHOW COMMENTS