Harry’s off to Oxford to study Chinese

St Columb's College principal Sean McGinty and Xia Gu Ming, Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, with student Harry McGee who will study Mandarin Chinese at Queens College, Oxford, this September. (3004PG04)
St Columb's College principal Sean McGinty and Xia Gu Ming, Hangzhou Foreign Languages School, with student Harry McGee who will study Mandarin Chinese at Queens College, Oxford, this September. (3004PG04)

St Columb’s College student Harry McGee is relishing the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese at Oxford University.

The teenager, who will commence his studies at Queen’s College this September, says he’s “very much looking forward” to the challenge.

Harry says his interest in Chinese language and culture was sparked during his fifth year at St. Columb’s with the arrival of the school’s first ever Chinese language assistant.

“I have always enjoyed learning foreign languages but Chinese proved to be completely different to the European languages I had been accustomed to studying,” he said. “It is always a struggle for novice Chinese learners to get a grasp on the language as there are several key differences between Chinese and any European language that make it so difficult to learn.”

Chinese, says Harry, is a “tonal language” with the meaning of a word changing depending on the intonation of your voice.

He explained: “The typical example is ‘Ma’ - depending on the tone you are using when you say it, it may have a totally different meaning. There are four tones and when ‘Ma’ is pronounced using these tones it can mean ‘Mum’, ‘Horse’, ‘Blame’ and ‘Linen’.

“Secondly, its writing style is completely different to our own. Whereas we have an alphabet, allowing us to piece together the sounds of new words we encounter, if a native Chinese speaker comes across a new word - written as a character - they will find it almost impossible to infer meaning as the character is not made up of the sounds used in the spoken form of the word.”

Harry says that, while Chinese is very challenging for him, “it is an extremely rewarding language.”

“It allows us to access the culture of roughly one billion people and it is soon to become even more relevant for Northern Ireland with the opening of the new Confucius School in Belfast.

“Thanks to the Chinese classes at St Columb’s, I have been spurred on to study Chinese in university and I am very much looking forward to studying Chinese culture in greater detail. I hope St Columb’s will continue offering this opportunity for years to come.”