The Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese specification is presented in two inter-related and inter-dependent strands.
The strands in the specification are Communicative Language Competence and Plurilingual and Pluricultural Competence. Learners develop their communicative language competence through reflective target language use which is, in turn, informed by plurilingual and pluricultural competence; both of which develop out of the learning.
The structure of the strands and elements are also set out in this way to support teachers in planning for learning, teaching and assessment and should not be considered in isolation. Teachers identify pathways through the specification which respond to learners’ prior learning leading to deeper comprehension and application of their language skills in increasingly complex situations up to the point of being more proficient and confident language users.
In designing the strands, elements and learning outcomes for this specification, the following concepts and ideas were given particular attention:
* CEFR Companion Volume, Council of Europe, 2018, p. 157.
Communicative Language Competence Strand
Language use is central to the development of overall language proficiency. The learning outcomes in this strand are organised under the four modes of communication identified in the CEFR Companion Volume*:
Active engagement with the learning outcomes in this strand enables learners to communicate effectively in the target language for meaningful purposes and to develop overall language proficiency.
Plurilingual and Pluricultural Competence Strand
Plurilingual and pluricultural competence is developed by and through the use of the target language. As outlined in the CEFR:
Plurilingual and pluricultural competence refers to the ability to use languages for the purposes of communication and to take part in intercultural interaction, where a person, viewed as a social agent, has proficiency, of varying degrees, in several languages and experience of several cultures… The various cultures (national, regional, social), to which a learner has gained access, do not just exist side by side but they are compared, contrasted and they actively interact to produce an enriched, integrated pluricultural competence…**
The learning outcomes in this strand are organised as follows:
Active engagement with these learning outcomes is central to supporting the development of overall language proficiency.
* CEFR, Council of Europe, 2001.
** CEFR, Council of Europe, 2001, p. 168.
The Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese specification is designed for a minimum of 180 hours of class contact time.
Curriculum and assessment focus on the embedding of key skills within learning outcomes. This is accompanied by a varied approach to assessment in which learners can generate responses that reveal the depth of their understanding. The embedding of key skills requires careful consideration of the balance between knowledge and skills in the curriculum and in learning, and of finding appropriate ways of assessing them.
There are five skills identified as central to teaching and learning across the curriculum at senior cycle. These are: information processing; Being Personally Effective; Communicating; Critical and Creative Thinking; and Working with Others. It is important for all learners to develop these key skills which contribute to helping them achieve their full potential, both during their time in school and into the future. This will allow them to participate fully in society, including family life, the world of work and lifelong learning. This specification is designed to help learners develop language proficiency, including cross-linguistic skills, as they build on their knowledge and understanding of language learning and form positive attitudes to learning in general.
Information processing and critical and creative thinking
Learners engage with the fundamental concepts and processes of language learning through participation in a range of learning and communication activities where they encounter the key skills in an integrated way. Learners develop information processing skills and critical and creative thinking skills by engaging in language activities where they are required to explore and understand authentic texts, identify and gather specific information from texts for a particular purpose and develop a range of creative texts.
Communication skills are developed as learners collaborate and as they express and share their opinions and ideas. This encourages learners to engage in conversation, appropriate to the level of this specification, listening attentively and eliciting opinions and emotions. They also learn to provide information in a way that is relevant to and understandable by people with diverse levels of language knowledge and understanding.
Working with others and being personally effective
As language is communicative by nature, learning languages enables learners to cultivate an appreciation of working collectively, which can help motivation, and capitalise on all talents within a group. Self-awareness and persistence in the face of challenges enable learners to grow and to develop. Learners develop this skill of being personally effective as they develop strategies to learn and to build on previous knowledge.
Literacy includes the capacity to read, understand and critically appreciate various forms of communication including spoken language, printed text, broadcast media, and digital media. Literacy acquisition is a central component of language acquisition. As learners become familiar with various text and media (including multi-modal texts), they develop literacy skills. In creating their own texts, communicating online, or seeking information in the Mandarin Chinese classroom, learners’ language and digital skills are developed, and this significantly enhances their overall literacy, including digital literacy. The use of technology contributes significantly to fostering creativity, the acquisition of literacy and the satisfaction learners get from using language.
Translanguaging, the process whereby multilingual speakers use their plurilingual repertoire as an integrated language system, is a key element in the learners’ ability to navigate the complex social and cognitive demands in the acquisition of new languages.
Language awareness is an important element of their literacy development. This awareness helps learners to make informed choices while manipulating subjects, ideas and concepts. Quantitative and numerical concepts also form part of language learning, deepening learners’ numeracy skills.
Throughout their time in senior cycle, learners are encouraged to develop the knowledge, skills and values that will enable them to become more independent learners and to develop a lifelong commitment to improving their learning.
While the learning outcomes associated with each strand are set out separately, this does not imply they are to be studied in isolation. The learner’s engagement and learning are optimised by a fully integrated experience of both strands. This specification gives teachers and learners the flexibility to use a range of learning and teaching approaches and strategies which are appropriate and relevant to the various contexts in which they use the language.
Senior cycle learners are encouraged to develop the knowledge, skills, attitudes, and values that will enable them to become more independent learners and to develop a lifelong commitment to language learning. The interconnectivity between our language, our society and our interpersonal relationships should be embedded into classroom learning and teaching where teachers are encouraged to highlight the social nature of language.
The section below outlines the learning and teaching approaches embedded in the integrated strands of the specification.
The learning and acquisition of Mandarin Chinese can be viewed as a language learning journey. The learners’ focus on this journey is to be capable, independent and self-governing language users. An important part of the journey is prior language learning and acquisition. While they may not have learned Mandarin Chinese before, the skills learners have developed acquiring their first and subsequent language(s) play a very important role in their acquisition and development of this language. They develop language-learning strategies that are transferable across different languages, enabling them to make connections between aspects of language and everyday experiences.
Self-awareness is the most effective tool that language learners can use to make progress. With teachers’ help and feedback and by reflecting on their language learning journey, learners take the necessary steps to develop their language proficiency. Teachers and learners collaborate on this part of lifelong language learning. The interactive, communicative use of the target language by both parties provides the input that is essential for language development. Teachers have expertise in the language and have particular knowledge and special skills relating to the teaching and assessment of language to facilitate learning. When learners encounter challenges and difficulties, teachers provide guidance, encouragement, help, feedback and support so that they may progress. Output is of particular importance for learners on this journey, as is a language-rich learning environment, opportunities for use of and interaction in the language.
To support this language-rich environment, it is desirable that learners are encouraged and scaffolded to engage with authentic texts . This could involve both fiction and non-fiction texts, depending on the interests of the learners, including short articles, poems, films, comic strips, lyrics etc. and taking into consideration the interests of the learners and the ab initio level of this specification.
Classmates, the learning environment and the community also have a role to play. By taking advantage of opportunities to communicate with classmates in group work, pair work and other collaborative activities and by engaging in tasks through the target language, learners can interact through the target language and develop skills in communication, listening to each other and reflecting on their own work and that of others.
Engaging in a variety of meaningful tasks and language activities will enable learners to take charge of their own learning, motivating them to set goals, develop action plans, to receive, respond to and reflect on assessment feedback. As well as varied teaching strategies, varied assessment strategies will support learning and provide information that can be used as feedback so that learning and teaching activities can be designed and/or delivered in ways that best suit individual learners and their language skills. By setting appropriate, real-life and engaging tasks, by asking higher-order questions and by giving feedback that promotes learner agency, assessment will support learning as well as capturing achievement.
Observation is another tool used by learners to make progress. A sense of curiosity and a desire to learn are created, and learners become self-aware. Through this awareness, they acknowledge the disparity between the level of their own language system (interlanguage) as well as richer, more accurate and more natural versions and examples of the language produced by others. They understand why they make mistakes and take responsibility for correcting those mistakes, producing richer, more accurate and more natural language themselves.
As described below, learners may use their Language Portfolio to regularly describe what they observe about the language, reflect on their progress and on the cultures of the target language country/countries and communities. They might also describe the steps they must take to make progress as a learner and a language user. Such elements necessarily underpin their ongoing progress in the language.
Over the two years of Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese, each learner develops a Language Portfolio. The Language Portfolio focuses on the learners’ language journey, the process and progress of their language learning experiences. It places the learner at the centre of learning, teaching and assessment and facilitates autonomous learning.
The purpose of the Language Portfolio is to create a space in which learners can record and reflect on their growing language proficiency. It provides learners with an opportunity to set personal learning goals across the four modes of communication (reception, interaction, production and mediation) and to develop their plurilingual and pluricultural competence by becoming more aware of themselves as language learners and users.
Using the Language Portfolio supports ongoing formative assessment in the language classroom and facilitates learners in showcasing their language-learning achievements. Self-assessment is fundamental to the Language Portfolio and learners are encouraged to set goals for their learning and monitor their own progress through evaluative reflection. In addition to teacher feedback, learners will be encouraged to self-assess and peer-assess their work. This will further develop their autonomy as language learners and users.
The Language Portfolio will include a broad range of items, such as written texts, projects, audio-visual materials, learning logs, learner reflections and learning goals. It is recognised that in this context the learners’ created texts* may be presented in different formats—handwritten, multi-modal, and so on.
The portfolio as a means of documenting and reflecting on their learning will help learners to develop an awareness of the language learning process, to develop language learning strategies and to become more autonomous in their language learning.
As outlined in the Assessment section of this specification, learners will engage in conversation about their language portfolio during their oral examination. The Language Portfolio is a stimulus for conversation and discussion, however, the portfolio itself will not be assessed for certification purposes.
* ‘Text’ refers to all products of language use including oral, written and multi-modal texts.
The Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese specification is inclusively designed in three ways:
Learning outcomes should be achievable for every learner. They promote learning, teaching and assessment processes that develop learners’ knowledge and understanding. They enable learners, through a variety of language learning experiences, to respond, analyse, evaluate and demonstrate their competencies as they progress.
Differentiation in learning and teaching supports equity and inclusion of opportunity and access for every learner. It addresses the barriers faced by learners and schools in meeting the needs of an increasingly diverse school population.
Teachers can reduce the barriers to learning and engage learners’ interests through the many possibilities available to them in the language classroom such as learning and teaching strategies. Teachers differentiate by text, task, outcome, support (teacher support as well as other forms of support), learners’ interests and preferences, and by using a variety of teaching approaches to learning.
An action-oriented approach supports the opportunities for learning presented by the diversity within classrooms.
Teachers give learners the opportunity to think critically and creatively about the tasks they are involved in, encouraging them to draw on their own plurilingual and pluricultural repertoire. They can offer learners multiple learning experiences based on the work and processes being undertaken in the classroom so that they complement learners’ needs.
Assessment of Leaving Certificate Mandarin Chinese will be based on the learning outcomes in the specification. Learners will be assessed at two levels, Higher and Ordinary. All learning outcomes may be assessed at both Higher and Ordinary levels—this is outlined in detail on the section on Assessment for certification.
In the early stages of learning Chinese, learners may find it helpful if they are exposed to Pin Yin. This Romanised system of writing Chinese words, can be very useful as a building block in the learning process; helping with pronunciation, allowing learners to start speaking the language quickly, having visual reminders of tones and being able to use it for input via digital technologies. While teachers may formatively assess learners’ use of Pin Yin, this will not be formally assessed in the Leaving Certificate. Furthermore, while Pin Yin has its place in an ab initio classroom, learners will be encouraged not to become dependent on it.
In addition, learners will be exposed to, and supported in their comprehension of texts, written in simplified characters* in clear and standard handwriting and familiar digital scripts presented in the fonts that are most commonly used for Mandarin Chinese.
* Simplified Chinese characters are currently used officially in the People’s Republic of China, Singapore and Malaysia. In comparison with the traditional Chinese characters which are used in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau, structural simplification and substantial reduction on the number of character sets were applied to the scheme of simplified Chinese characters.