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Mandarin lessons in Portuguese shoe town schools

Portuguese shoemakers hope that future Mandarin speakers will give them a competitive edge.

Council leaders in the small Portuguese town of Sao Joao da Madeira have made lessons in Mandarin Chinese mandatory for eight- and nine-year-olds in its schools. The long-term aim of this policy is to give the town’s children the ability to sell Portuguese footwear into the Chinese market.

After a prolonged contraction that saw unemployment in Portugal rise above 17 per cent, the footwear industry is taking steps to help the country export its way out of the slump. The national government – striving to overcome six very hard years of economic woes – is watching Sao Joao da Madeira’s experiment closely to see if it can be introduced throughout Portugal.

The children appear to enjoy their new lessons, and the hope is that they will continue their language studies until at least the end of their secondary school education.

The owner of one footwear producer in Sao Joao da Madeira believes that these new lessons could give the town’s children a clear advantage over their peers in doing business with the Chinese one day, and that these young Mandarin speakers will, in time, be perfect for sales jobs or managerial posts at factories.
The amount of Portuguese footwear exported to China is said to have increased from 10,000 pairs in 2011 to 170,000 pairs two years later.

Publishing Data

This article was originally published on page 3 of the December 2014 issue of SATRA Bulletin.

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