On February 27, 2022 (Sunday), The fourth Taiwan Centre for Mandarin Learning in Europe was officially established in Dublin, Ireland. Unveiling the plaque marked a further milestone in the ongoing deep collaboration between overseas heritage language schools around the world, such as Dublin School of Mandarin Chinese, the Overseas Community Affairs Council (OCAC) and various ministries in Taiwan. Following the Mandarin language education export programme promoted by the Ministry of Education several years ago, the OCAC led and echoed the goal to "build teacher training bases, enhance the capacity of Mandarin learning centres, expand the learning markets internationally, and promote the Test of Chinese as a Foreign Language (TOCFL)". It shows the government’s determination of promoting Mandarin learning globally and took the first step of promoting Mandarin Learning for adults in Ireland.
"Taiwan offers an option to learn Mandarin with freedom and without proscription," Ambassador Yang said in his opening speech that the establishment of the Taiwan Centre for Mandarin Learning in Ireland (TCMLI) marks an important milestone in cultural exchanges between Ireland and Taiwan. He cited the famous book "Freedom to Learn" by American humanist psychologist Carl Rogers to explain that there are actually many opportunities to learn Mandarin in Ireland, but there are always hidden political taboos, and many topics cannot be discussed. Such taboo restrictions are not conducive to language and culture learning. The TCMLI provides an independent and open option that conforms to the trend of the times.
The chairperson of Dublin School of Mandarin Chinese, Mr Hsu Hsiao Ping, emphasised that he is extremely delighted with this opportunity to share Taiwanese culture through Mandarin education. He firmly believes language is not just about words but also about values and culture. Dublin City Councillor Declan Flanagan was invited to speak and commented on Principal Furlong's dedication in promoting the heritage language education, “I welcome the news that the centre will be based in the Liberties, The Masonry, an iconic and beautiful building, formerly the Irish Agricultural Wholesale Society used as a seed and grain house. The building was an Edwardian style and was carefully renovated to honour its heritage”. He expressed that he is delighted to see that there are many interested in Mandarin learning in Ireland. The establishment of the TCMLI indicates the cultural diversity of Irish society and the vigorous development of international communities in Ireland.
In order to develop and encourage adults to learn Chinese, TCMLI offers scholarships for outstanding students in the first term. A scholarship recipient, an Aer Lingus engineer Barry Thomson said in an interview “Evan made many of the things that I had found daunting in the beginning, such as tones and recognising Chinese characters, into something fun and fascinating. The training material was easy to follow along to as a beginner and allowed me to start reading full sentences very early on. We also focused on Chinese culture and the importance of the traditional writing system still prevalent in Taiwan, Hong Kong, etc. This has given me a greater appreciation for Chinese culture, which I am excited to learn more and more about”. Barry’s wife is a native Mandarin Chinese speaker and they are raising their daughter bilingually. His initial goal was to be able to have basic conversations with family from time to time. However, after taking these classes, he’s found himself not only having extended conversations in Mandarin, but he’s also been able to read and write far past any expectations he had for himself.
As of April 2021, the OCAC launched a Mandarin learning promotion plan, and established the first 15 Taiwan Centres for Mandarin Learning (TCML) through overseas heritage language schools. The TCML uses the ‘Let's Learn Mandarin’ textbook and aims to provide adults in western society with opportunities to learn Mandarin with Taiwanese characteristics, and invite learners from Europe and the United States to participate in camps, language classes, observation groups and English service camps in Taiwan, so as to gain experience of Taiwanese culture and life, thereby promoting cultural exchange and language learning. In 2021, the OCAC has supported and established 18 TCML (3 in Europe and 15 in the USA), and in 2022, 29 will be established, and it is expected to reach 100 by 2025.
The OCAC has funded the first TCML in Ireland with the collaboration of Dublin School of Mandarin Chinese (DSMC) which was founded in 2009. In addition to teaching and learning of heritage language and culture, the DSMC enthusiastically promotes Taiwanese culture in Ireland, and has been widely praised especially after the recent participation in the Dublin Lunar New Year festival organised by the Dublin City Council. The principal of DSMC, Evan Furlong introduced the ten-week course content in addition to the purpose and goals of the establishment of the TCMLI at the opening. Her innovative presentation and use of unique learning methods is intended to strengthen learners’ confidence and enables any person unfamiliar with Mandarin to learn up to 30 words in just a few minutes. The state of the art learning methods ensure that students can achieve the expected listening, speaking, reading and writing (typing) goals of up to 100 words in just ten weeks.
The guests at the opening event included representatives from the U.S. Embassy in Ireland, officials from the Taipei Representative Office, representatives of Taiwanese associations, teachers from the DSMC, parents of students who are interested in learning Mandarin, scholarship recipients from the TCMLI and many potential new students. The guests were welcomed by three Chinese deities, known as the Third Prince, bringing a lively atmosphere to the proceedings. Additionally there was a traditional calligraphy workshop, a book exhibition and a traditional puppet workshop adding to the entertainment. The opening ceremony was set off with a rendition of classical Taiwanese folk music ‘Rainy night flower and Spring breeze’ played by the Evergreen Symphony Orchestra. After the keynote speeches, the stars of the Dublin Lunar New Year, the Electric Third Princes performed both traditional Irish and Taiwanese dances. This wonderful combination of the two cultures was delivered by three world champion dancers (Scott Heffernan, Scott Brien & Niall O’Callaghan) from the Dowling School of Irish Dancing. The event closed with a beautiful three course meal for all guests.