British pupils encouraged to learn Mandarin Chinese

UK Prime Minister, David Cameron has announced that British schoolchildren should abandon French, German and Spanish in favour of Mandarin Chinese. With 14.1% of the world speaking Mandarin, it is the world’s most popular language, and has made the British Council’s top five most important languages for Britain’s future economic prosperity.

The announcement came after the prime minister’s recent visit to China, where he visited a school, and he said that a partnership between the British Council and the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban) would double the number of UK-based Chinese language assistants by 2016.

It is widely known that Britain’s traditional secondary school-taught foreign languages, French and German, have been in decline in terms of exam entries in recent years. Spanish, however, which is marginally more popular than English in terms of native speakers, has seen an increase in entries.

Cameron believes that the economic link a nation of competent Mandarin Chinese speakers would be extremely valuable, and feels that it would be more useful to young Britons than French, with 177,000 GCSE entries in 2013, and German, with just 62,000.

However, one drawback is the relative difficulty of Mandarin Chinese compared to the Germanic and Romance languages traditionally taught in the UK. Mandarin uses an entirely different character-based system, along with tonal phonology which makes it notoriously tricky for native English speakers to learn.

It remains to be seen whether or not the uptake of Mandarin Chinese will increase in schools, but there are several factors to consider, including a shortage of Mandarin Chinese teachers and the cost of introducing it into schools, which could act as barriers to implementation, at least in the short term.

Would you prefer to see British children learning Mandarin or sticking with French?

Read more about David Cameron’s Mandarin Chinese plans>>

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Post written by Kayleigh Tanner