Driving to work this morning, I was treated to the syrupy tones of Micheal Martin (the Irish Foreign Minister for anyone living abroad) on the radio, live from Shanghai, where he is, eh, "leading" a trade mission .
Apart from pulling the usual government stunt of contradicting the Financial Regulator, Matthew Elderfield, by saying that (yes of course!) the state would bail-out struggling mortgage holders, despite the moral hazard this would cause; the man from Cork also noted that we in Ireland will have to introduce Chinese (Mandarin, I presume) into our schools, if we hope to compete in the 21st century.
As one of the growing number of Irishmen and women who have made a somewhat half-assed attempt at learning Mandarin, I can (and this is rare for me) agree whole-heartedly with the Fianna Fail Minister. No, of course China will not take the place of the US as the main focus of our efforts to attract investment, but given the amount of ready foreign currency China has floating around in its coffers, we would be foolish not to at least try to give some of this money a home in Ireland.
A poster on Politics.ie (Seenitallb4, I believe) has hit the nail on the head, by noting that introducing Chinese in Irish schools would immediately put us on the radar of the Chinese government, who would, no doubt, view this as evidence of their growing soft-power.
Apart from the language benefits, learning a language which is so different to English should also broaden the horizons of our future students, who will realise that there is more to "abroad" than the usual choice of Boston or Berlin (or indeed, Birmingham).
Of course, the joke will be on the Chinese when, in 20 years time, their industrial facilities here in Ireland are hiring Irish school leavers whose Mandarin is just as poor as the French and German that their parents and grandparents allegedly spent 6 years learning in school during the eighties and nineties. Because after all, it is one thing to offer a language on the school syllabus, it is another for the students to actually study it effectively.
Politics.ie discussion here.