Following on from my earlier reflections on the importance of adult literacy, I would like to draw your attention to a project taking place in Northern Uganda teaching women to read. While in France and New Zealand we have adult literacy rates of 99%, Uganda has only 73% with women being highly over-represented in this statistic. Owing to conflict, these women were not given the opportunity to learn to read as children. You can find out more here.
Mandarin is a language that I have been interested in for some time. I had the opportunity to learn it for a few months at high school, having lessons after school with a friend’s dad, but unfortunately I didn’t continue. So now I’ve decided to take it up again, drawn not only by the melody of the spoken language and the art in its writing, but also the increasing significance of Mandarin (in a similar way to English) in the international world of business.
Although I haven’t yet found myself a teacher, I’ve started with some books (accompanied by audio) to get me started with the writing. They are very useful, with a description of the parts that make up each character and the stroke-order for each. I find it very relaxing to take the time to practise the characters and very satisfying when I feel that I’ve almost mastered one. But there is always a difference between the character in the book and the one I have on paper; It has the same feel as a child writing their name for the first time. They can follow the lines approximately, but tend to give a laboured look.
In my Mandarin-writing mediation, I started to think about the time and practice that it takes to learn to write even in your first language and then about the difficulties that immigrants must face when they first arrive in a country and can’t read and write the local language. Finding toilets in public, reading a map and filling in forms would all be complicated tasks. In my teaching career so far I haven’t had the opportunity to work with any students who were not familiar with the Latin script; my students have principally been French, and the Chinese students that I taught during my teacher training were already very familiar with the alphabet.
Being a new arrival in France though, I have encountered some illiteracy during my integration process. Before the immigration medical exams held at the prefecture, we all had to fill in a form with our name and contact details. I was sitting at a table with a group of Somali women who couldn’t yet write their names. Luckily in France new immigrants have compulsory French classes as part of the new integration policy and I imagine that there is some support given to those who cannot read and write in French.
So I will continue with my Mandarin, although I don’t have the advantage of already knowing the alphabet as I did when I started learning French and Spanish. Hopefully this way I will understand a few signs when I visit China one day.