Mass Mandarin lesson signals importance of language in UK

[Source] [Time]    2017-12-22 09:17:54 

Mandarin learning has grown in popularity in the United Kingdom in the wake of the British government acknowledging the importance of China as a key partner after the nation leaves the European Union.

Earlier this month, the Foreign Office hosted a special celebration Mandarin lesson involving 140 British pupils from 14 secondary schools, to show the Chinese government the significant progress British people have made in learning the language.

The session, the UK’s biggest-ever Mandarin lesson, was staged to coincide with the fifth annual UK-China High-Level People-to-People Dialogue held in the UK, which included the signing of 10 key agreements in areas including the arts, culture, and education.

The 14 secondary schools have all scaled-up Mandarin learning during the past year, thanks to funding from the Mandarin Excellence Program, an initiative launched in September 2016 by the UCL Institute of Education and the British Council. The program has the goal of ensuring 5,000 secondary school students are fluent in Mandarin by 2020.

Mark Herbert, head of schools programs at the British Council, said the importance of Mandarin in the UK’s future is likely to increase as the country repositions itself on the world stage.

“If the UK is to remain globally competitive in the years ahead, we need many more young people being given the chance to master Mandarin,” Herbert said.

His message was echoed by Nick Gibb, the UK’s minister of school standards.

“Mandarin is the most-spoken language in the world, so this program plays a crucial role in helping these pupils achieve the fluency they need to succeed in an increasingly global economy,” Gibb said.

Students taking part in the Mandarin Excellence Program spend an average of eight hours a week learning the language. The first students scored an average of 80 percent in their reading, writing, listening, and speaking tests.

Katharine Carruthers, director of the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute, said the lesson was a great opportunity for the participating students to “realize that they are participating in a prestigious national Department for Education program which is considered of significant importance to both the UK and China.”

Meanwhile, a growing number of British schools are now offering Mandarin lessons, thanks to the language’s popularity, and the support schools receive from Confucius institutes, which are Mandarin-teaching organizations affiliated with British universities.

For example, the University of Ulster’s Confucius Institute, launched in 2012, now supports Mandarin lessons at 161 partner primary and secondary schools, and a quarter of those schools have made Mandarin learning compulsory for certain age groups.

The Confucius Institute program was launched by the Chinese government in 2004 as a way to promote the Chinese language and its culture abroad. So far, 516 Confucius institutes have been established in 142 countries and regions.

(By Cecily Liu


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