Language education begins in the home, is embedded in the primary school curriculum and is further developed in junior cycle. This provides continuity and progression for senior cycle subjects including Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese. While some learners doing Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese may have followed a short course or Transition Year module in Mandarin Chinese, this is not a prerequisite– this specification is offered to all learners and pitched at ab initio level.
Children begin language learning at the home and in their community. The home languages of Irish children may be one (or more) of up to two hundred languages.
Language is central to the theme of Communicating in Aistear: the Early Childhood Curriculum Framework (NCCA, 2009). This encourages and enables children to share their experiences, thoughts, ideas and feelings with others with growing confidence and competence in a variety of ways in a range of languages.
Most children have experience of learning at least two languages in the Primary School Curriculum—Irish and English. The primary curriculum acknowledges and encourages children’s use of other languages with a focus on socio-cultural, intercultural and language knowledge and awareness. Children and parents are encouraged to maintain and develop their home languages.
The majority of learners continue to study Irish and English in the post-primary phase of their education. In addition, all junior cycle students are given the opportunity to learn a third or subsequent language.
Junior cycle language specifications equip learners with the skills and strategies to underpin further language learning, including additional languages which they can use for meaningful purposes. Learners are enabled to reflect on their language learning journey, to compare their target language with other languages they know, and to reflect on and become more aware of their own and other cultural identities.
In the initial part of senior cycle, Transition Year (TY) students may be exposed to a new language which enables them to add to their plurilingual and pluricultural repertoire.
Leaving Certificate Established curricular language learning options currently include Irish and English, a range of European languages, Russian, Arabic, Japanese, Ancient Greek, Latin and Hebrew Studies. Learners who engage with the Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme (LCVP) also study a language.
The majority of senior cycle learners will have already been exposed to several languages at this point. Their home language may be different to the language of schooling, they may have classmates who speak other languages outside class so they bring to the task of learning another language many of the transferable language-learning skills and plurilingual competencies acquired previously. The learning of senior cycle languages aims to help the learner build on these skills and competencies.
The study of languages also relates to other subject areas. By learning about the way of life of target language-speaking communities, learners heighten their awareness of social and cultural diversity, the diversity of cultural heritage, literature, visual arts, music, history, geography and so on. In turn, they are enabled to reflect on and become more aware of their own and other cultural and linguistic identities.
Learners’ engagement and sense of progress is enhanced as they are scaffolded into making connections between Mandarin Chinese and other languages they know. Their motivation is enhanced as they use the target language to successfully express and receive meaningful messages in their diverse language communities, be they within the classroom, the school environment or the wider community.
The language community has a central role to play in learners’ progress. Language and cultural awareness help learners to develop their understanding of the importance of the language community, to be part of the language community, and to identify with the community. The language community provides learners with examples of the living language and learners observe and imitate elements of this language, which in turn acts as a stimulus. They understand the disparity and overlaps between their own language and the language provided by the language community.