Notes: Senior Education Officer for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland
My name is Sandie Robb and I am a Senior Education Officer for the Royal Zoological Society of Scotland (RZSS).
RZSS is a worldwide conservation organisation with many projects around the world and in Scotland. RZSS also operates Edinburgh Zoo and Highland Wildlife Park.
I manage the ‘Beyond the Panda’ education programme and our ‘Science in the Language Class’ series.
What languages have you learned?
Due to the ‘Beyond the Panda’ programme linking to Mandarin language learning, I have been studying Mandarin over the past 2 years. I have studied with the Open University and with the Confucius Institute for Scotland at the University of Edinburgh.
Many years ago now, I learned Spanish at high school. Unfortunately with not using the language I have forgotten a lot of what I learned but not everything and I am beginning to recall some of the language. With our Science in the Language Class series, we will be developing games which link to our conservation projects across the world or to the conservation breeding programmes within our zoos. Currently we have some Spanish (linking to our South American project) and Japanese (linking to the Japanese macaques at Highland Wildlife Park) resources so I am picking up a little of both languages. We aim to continue these resources linking to other popular languages learned in schools.
How have any language skills helped you in your work?
Linking our giant panda education programme to Mandarin language learning has been key to the success of Beyond the Panda and it is essential in developing and delivering this programme that I have a basic knowledge of Mandarin Chinese. I love reading and writing Chinese characters and this also enables me to develop the games and activities for children to learn to recognise the characters.
What benefits do you think language skills bring to your work?
As RZSS is a worldwide organisation with employees working out in the field, knowing even a little of a language is respectful and polite. With the ‘Science in the Language Class’ series I hope to engage students not only in a fun way to learn languages but to understand the work we do with endangered species across the world.
Do you have any advice for anyone considering learning a language?
Do try to learn at least one second language. Also don’t worry about making mistakes.
I feel it is important to try and you will find that native speakers will be so happy you have made the effort to speak in their language; they will usually understand your meaning in context and forgive your grammar, pronunciation and incorrect tone! Although, of course, do try to improve.
Do you have any tips on how best to approach communicating in a language you have little knowledge of?
If you know some basic nouns then with the use of your hands and body language you can attempt to show your meaning without necessarily knowing how to phrase a full sentence.
In your experience, how important would you say that cultural awareness is?
It is common courtesy to know a little bit about different countries and their culture when you are visiting. Also if you are hosting visitors, then again it is polite to greet them in their language and respect their culture.
Remember that some things we take for granted in our own country, may be rude or impolite to others.
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