MEITS Blog


Teaching standard Mandarin pronunciation to Mongolian learners over the past hundred years

by Jiaye Wu

Mandarin Chinese, an emerging key world business language, has become a foreign language option for some UK students in recent decades. Research into state secondary schools in England shows that only 7-8% offered Chinese as a subject in 2005 with this number nearly doubling to 13% in 2015. By 2020, the UK government hopes to have 400,000 students enrolled in Mandarin courses. In China, although Mandarin is the first language of the majority Han population, 106.43 million or 8.41 percent of the total population in China are ethnic minorities who speak other languages. While a high number of these also learn Mandarin as a second language, how different is the Mandarin taught to them compared with that taught to the mother-tongue Han students or to foreign students worldwide? Has this changed over time? In this blog, I will showcase how one particular ethnic minority group in China, the Mongolians, have been taught Mandarin pronunciation over the last hundred years.

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Noticing languages - noticing linguistic inequality

by Nicola McLelland

I’ve just been called up for Jury Service – my first time – and I’m approaching it with what I’m guessing is the usual mix of curiosity, eagerness to be useful, and nervousness. The last time I set foot in a courtroom was doing work experience as a teenager, shadowing a court interpreter. The defendant who needed the interpreter was convicted of a driving offence. He said he hadn’t understood the rules, but, I discovered, that was no defence, though it might mean a more lenient sentence.

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Angkor Supermarket: Multilingual landscapes of Cambodia

by Hui (Annette) Zhao

In January 2019, I went to a linguistic anthropology conference in Siem Reap, Cambodia (CALA – the Conference on Asian Linguistic Anthropology). Before the trip, all I knew about the city was ‘oh, that’s where Angkor Wat is!’. I boarded the plane to Siem Reap, hoping that my languages (Mandarin, English and a bit of French) would help me survive the 5 days since my Khmer is limited to ‘អរគុណ’ (pronounced /ʔɑˈkun/, meaning ‘thank you’).

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French grammar – what a waste of time!

by Wendy Ayres-Bennett

French grammar – and the difficulty of acquiring the rules of le bon usage or correct usage – is once again in the news. Two schoolteachers from Belgium have had the audacity to suggest that the rules for past participle agreement with the verb avoir ‘to have’ should be simplified. Why? Because learning these rules takes some 80 hours of teaching in school, and this time, the teachers argue, could be better spent on other things. 

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A Fieldwork trip to Multilingual Hohhot, Inner Mongolia

by Jiaye Wu

When the cold winter is well over, I have come to visit 呼和浩特 (Hohhot) in May for my PhD project which investigates the under-researched history of teaching and learning Mandarin Chinese as a second language to Mongolian minority groups in China since 1900. Hohot is the capital of North China’s Inner Mongolia autonomous region. 

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The Linguistic and Ideological Complexities of the ‘Chinese’ Language

by Hui (Annette) Zhao

United Nations’ Chinese Language Day falls on 20 April, and is one of the six UN language days, celebrating multilingualism and the use of six official languages (Arabic, Chinese, English, French, Russian, and Spanish). Here, I want to talk about the term ‘Chinese’, a ‘simple’ term packed with linguistic and ideological complexities.

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Dipping a toe into language standards and variation in multilingual China

by Nicola McLelland

I’m an intermediate learner of Chinese, something I’ve been doing very slowly in my “spare” time over the past few years. Last year, I scraped a pass at Level 4 of the official government-sponsored Chinese language tests (HSK), which means - to quote the official Hanban website - that I “can converse in Chinese on a wide range of topics and are able to communicate fluently with native Chinese speakers.” That might even be true, as long as by “conversing” you mean that I mainly listen.

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A needle in a haystack? Seeking languages in government

by Wendy Ayres-Bennett

In October 2015 we organised the first National Languages Workshop in Cambridge, with help from the Cambridge Strategic Research Initiative in Public Policy and the Centre for Science and Policy (CSaP). It comprised an open session in the morning with a series of presentations from representatives of different government departments, and a closed session under Chatham House rules in the afternoon. As a result, we produced a policy document, the Value of Languages.

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