With a pro­gram to make 5,000 UK teenagers flu­ent in Man­darin by 2020, stu­dents are learn­ing the lan­guage, re­ports Wang Mingjie in Lon­don.

China Daily - - HOLIDAY | READ -

It is Wed­nes­day evening and Sarah Evans’ friends are en­joy­ing a drink at a pub but the 25-year-old, who works for a hedge fund com­pany in the City of Lon­don, does not join them be­cause she is at her weekly Man­darin class.

“I think to be able to speak Man­darin flu­ently is very im­por­tant to me as it can un­doubt­edly give me an edge at my job,” said Evans, who is al­ready able to make good con­ver­sa­tion in Chi­nese.

Her story is one ex­am­ple of the grow­ing in­ter­est in Bri­tain in learn­ing Man­darin. As re­la­tions be­tween China and the United King­dom have im­proved dur­ing the last 45 years, learn­ing Man­darin has be­come in­creas­ingly pop­u­lar.

Ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Coun­cil, the num­ber of peo­ple tak­ing Man­darin ex­ams at the Gen­eral Cer­tifi­cate of Sec­ondary Educa­tion level in­creased by 92 per­cent over the past five years to 4,044 stu­dents in 2016.

There are about 130,000 Bri­tish stu­dents of all age groups study­ing Man­darin at the mo­ment, ac­cord­ing to fig­ures from the Chi­nese em­bassy.

Wang Yongli, min­is­ter coun­selor for educa­tion at the Chi­nese em­bassy in Lon­don, said Man­darin was of lit­tle in­ter­est to Bri­tish peo­ple decades ago, but the ex­pan­sion of the Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes and the smaller Con­fu­cius Class­rooms, with sup­port from lo­cal govern­ments and uni­ver­si­ties, has played an im­por­tant role in the rise of Man­darin in the coun­try.

“They are seen as cen­ters of ex­cel­lence to pro­vide great sup­port to teach­ers and schools in Man­darin teach­ing through a wide net­work. To date, there are 29 Con­fu­cius In­sti­tutes and 135 Con­fu­cius Class­rooms in the UK,” Wang said.

His view was echoed by the UK’s Min­is­ter of State for School Stan­dards, Nick Gibb, who be­lieves that a high level of flu­ency in Man­darin will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in the com­pet­i­tive global econ­omy.

“As part of our drive to ex­tend op­por­tu­nity, we want to give young peo­ple the op­por­tu­nity to study the lan­guage and to ac­quire flu­ency in both spo­ken and writ­ten Man­darin,” Gibb said.

In 2016, the Bri­tish govern­ment launched its 10-mil­lion-pound ($13 mil­lion) Man­darin Ex­cel­lence Pro­gram, which aims to get 5,000 stu­dents on the way to flu­ency in the lan­guage by 2020.

The pro­gram is be­ing run by UCL’s In­sti­tute of Educa­tion and the Bri­tish Coun­cil. On av­er­age, the stu­dents study Man­darin for eight hours a week.

Progress test re­sults in Oc­to­ber in­di­cated that the first co­hort of al­most 400 pupils from 14 schools across Eng­land are ex­celling when it comes to learn­ing Man­darin Chi­nese. The ma­jor­ity of pupils achieved marks of 80 per­cent or higher across spe­cially cre­ated tests in read­ing, writ­ing, lis­ten­ing and speak­ing.

Katharine Car­ruthers, di­rec­tor of the UCL In­sti­tute of Educa­tion Con­fu­cius In­sti­tute, said: “This pro­gram pro­vides a real boost and unique op­por­tu­nity for more mo­ti­vated pupils to be on track to­ward flu­ency in Man­darin, and in­ten­sive learn­ing is an im­por­tant part of that. All of the pupils who at­tended this in­no­va­tive teach­ing day are clearly ben­e­fit­ing from be­ing part of the pro­gram.”

Chi­jioke Davies, 12, from Dart­ford Gram­mar School in Kent, joined the pro­gram be­cause he wanted to have a big­ger chal­lenge than reg­u­lar Chi­nese lessons.

“The best thing about be­ing part of the (pro­gram) is that I have some­thing to be proud of and I can say that I am good at a lan­guage,” he said, adding “if any­one is think­ing about join­ing the pro­gram, I would say that they should join be­cause it is an amaz­ing ex­pe­ri­ence.”

Speak­ing about her ex­pe­ri­ence of the pro­gram, 12-year-old Carla Tur­bides from the An­glo Euro­pean School said: “The best thing about the Man­darin Ex­cel­lence Pro­gram is learn­ing about an­other lan­guage and cul­ture, and do­ing it to­gether with your friends. It’s a great pro­gram that of­fers amaz­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for the fu­ture.”

In 2013, the Bri­tish Coun­cil in­tro­duced its Gen­er­a­tion UK cam­paign, which aims to in­crease the num­ber of Bri­tish stu­dents and in­terns with place­ments in China to 80,000 by 2020.

Carma El­liot, di­rec­tor of the Bri­tish Coun­cil in China, said there are now some 7,500 young Bri­tish peo­ple gain­ing ex­pe­ri­ence in China. This num­ber has grown by around 40 per­cent in the last three years.

Bri­tish stu­dents’ am­bi­tion to ex­cel in Man­darin fol­lows strong in­ter­est among Chi­nese stu­dents to learn English, which be­gan in the late 1970s. As a re­sult, China now boasts the largest English-learn­ing pop­u­la­tion in the world, with an es­ti­mated 200 mil­lion stu­dents. In China, most stu­dents take their first English les­son dur­ing the first or third year of pri­mary school.

While there has been a surge in the num­ber of Bri­tons learn­ing Man­darin, the num­ber of Chi­nese stu­dents study­ing at Bri­tish uni­ver­si­ties has also con­tin­ued to rise dur­ing the past four decades, mak­ing Bri­tain the most pop­u­lar desti­na­tion in the Euro­pean Union.

More than 90,000 Chi­nese stu­dents were en­rolled at UK col­leges and uni­ver­si­ties in 2015-16, which was up 94 per­cent on the num­ber from a decade ago (46,960).

Con­tact the writer at wang­mingjie@mail.chi­nadai­lyuk.com


Pupils tak­ing part in the Man­darin Ex­cel­lence Pro­gram par­tic­i­pate in a class­room ac­tiv­ity at UCL In­sti­tute of Educa­tion in Lon­don on July 14.

School pupils take part in a Talk­ing Trea­sure Hunt around the UCL cam­pus in Lon­don on July 14.

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