The United Kingdom’s prime minister David Cameron, visited China for three days and, on his return, publicly urged British students to take up Mandarin instead of other more traditional languages such as French. He then backed up his view by stating that Mandarin was one of the languages of the future, necessary to participate in the world’s economy in the years to come.
The Prime Minister quoted Nelson Mandela by saying that, when you speak to somebody in their own language, you reach that person’s heart. And that is because David Cameron would like to develop stronger links with the Chinese, who enjoy one of the strongest and fastest growing economies of the current times. Cameron added that, by the time current schoolchildren have grown up to become the leaders of tomorrow, China will probably have consolidated as the strongest economy in the world.
Ideas Put into Practice
In more practical terms, Cameron stated that a partnership between the British Council and the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language will notably increase the number of Chinese language experts in the United Kingdom in a period of only three years. The partnership would also have direct economic consequences: an increase in the funding aimed at lowering the costs that schools which offer Mandarin as a language have to cover.
Mandarin in the United Kingdom
The current situation of the Mandarin language in the UK is not very encouraging: Only 1 per cent of the adult population can speak enough Mandarin to carry out a conversation, and there are only 3,000 students who sat for Mandarin in 2013 GCSEs. The situation contrasts with the importance granted by the government: The British council has chosen Mandarin as one of the five most important languages that would aid British prosperity and influence.
The British Academy’s foreign secretary, Professor Dame Helen Wallace, stated that turning Cameron’s words into practice is not as easy as it is sometimes made to be. To begin with, the lack of qualified teachers is a great impediment towards a change of trends. It is true that students should also be motivated to take up more language courses, but this is impossible if there are not enough primary, secondary and university level language professionals especially trained to teach students and motivate them to continue their efforts to learn the language. Wallace also stated that, for such a strategy to work, the government needs to enforce the linguistic policies for a long period of time because no results will be gained by pushing the learning of Mandarin for only a couple of years.