Tibet: Language at Threat
Below is an article published by the Washington Post
Teenager Dawan Dunjhu is Tibetan and lives in Tibet, but says that if his friends and classmates can't master Mandarin Chinese, they have little hope of a professional future.
"I want to be a lawyer, and for me Chinese plays a very important role both in my life and my study," Dawan Dunjhu, 16, told Reuters during a government-organized visit for foreign media to Tibet.
"If someone can't speak Chinese then they might as well be mute," added the student at the Shigatse Shanghai Experimental School, built with aid from the Shanghai government in a run-down monastery town several hours drive from Tibetan capital Lhasa.
Tibetan is an official language in Tibet and parts of China where Tibetans have traditionally been the main ethnic group, in what the government calls "autonomous" regions and areas.
Yet Beijing has for decades promoted "Putonghua," or standard Mandarin Chinese, as a way of unifying a diverse country.
This makes language choices fraught for groups that are not ethnically Chinese, many of whom chafe under Communist rule.
For Tibetans, the route to jobs and a better income often requires mastering Chinese, leaving many worried they will lose their own ancient tongue and its unique writing system.
While Dawan Dunjhu's school is technically bilingual, the only classes entirely taught in Tibetan are Tibetan language classes.
Teachers say there are no text books in Tibetan for subjects like history, mathematics or science, and exams have to be written in Chinese -- apart from Tibetan language tests.
"It would be hard for the students to translate into Tibetan concepts they have learned about in Chinese," said deputy headmaster Cang Qiong, patiently answering a stream of questions from foreign reporters about why Tibetan is so little used.
Younger grades fall back on Tibetan when new ideas are introduced, but the rest of the teaching is in Mandarin -- which parents and education experts say can dent interest in learning among some young children who struggle to keep up.