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Interview: Former Canadian ambassador to China stresses importance of learning Mandarin


18:33, June 06, 2013

VANCOUVER, June 5 (Xinhua) -- Canadian students are encouraged to start learning Mandarin as it is a key to a door that can open tremendous opportunities, says David Mulroney, the former Canadian ambassador to China.

Mulroney, who served as ambassador to China from 2009 to 2012, now is co-chairing the National Conversation on Asia, an initiative launched by the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada to help Canadians develop a fuller appreciation of the rise of Asia and its implications for Canada.

"Studying Mandarin even a little bit, like I did, is like a key to a door, and the door opens, and suddenly you begin to see things you haven't seen before. So it's a tremendous opportunity." Mulroney told Xinhua on Wednesday.

"My first boss in South Korea once said Chinese is like a river that flows to Aisa. If you follow this river, you will understand many parts of Asia, and I think that's true," Mulroney said. "So it's quite a great privilege in my life. And I would encourage other people."

Taking on a new language means a big commitment, Mulroney said. Both the Canadian government and the private sector, he said, needs to make students feel more confident and be more aware of the opportunities that will come with Canada's closer engagement with China.

"We need a very strong high level messaging about the importance of studying Chinese. We also need more from our private sectors, who say, this is going to be increasingly associated with employment and jobs. So we need both things. I think with that we can see the number of students increasing," Mulroney said.

He noted that Edmonton, the capital city of Canada's western province of Alberta, has one of the most successful models in teaching Mandarin.

Students in the city can have access to Mandarin training in primary and secondary level through an English-Chinese bilingual program that also links to a local university. Now, there are almost 2,000 students enrolled in the program, compared with less than 100 when it first started 30 years ago.

"We see these (preparations for a rising China) particularly in places like Edmonton, Vancouver and Toronto, which already had a lot of links with China. What we want to see is to spread this across the country, to places that haven't had lots of links with China but will increasingly have them, with tourism, education, business and globalization," he said.

Mulroney said that although misconceptions between China and Canada are almost inevitable, the best way to address the problem is to study, as the more facts people get, the less intimidating their concerns will be, and education can help reduce misconceptions.

"There will always be some bumps in the road, because our societies are quite different. But we can manage that more effectively if we raise levels of education and awareness," he said.

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