Demand for Mandarin rises in UK as China's influence grows

Updated: 2016-09-21 17:31


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Demand for Mandarin rises in UK as China's influence grows

British students sing a Chinese song during the opening ceremony at the Confucius Institute (Classrooms) annual conference in London. [Photo by PANG XINGLEI/XINHUA]

China's growing global influence is being fueled by the expansion of Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms in the UK, as more and more students start learning Mandarin.

According to Pearson, the British multinational publishing and education company, the number of students sitting Mandarin exams this year as part of the General Certificate of Secondary Education was up by 10 percent year-on-year, or 3,438 entrants,with a75 percent increase in entrants over the past five years.

More than 81 percent of students gained A* and A grades in their GCSE Mandarin exams this year.

This compares with an overall fall in the number of students taking GCSE modern foreign language exams,with the numbers taking exams in French down by 8.1 percent,and a fall of 7 percent in those taking German compared with last year.

Wang Yongli, minister counselor for education at the Chinese embassy, said the expansion of UK Confucius Institutes and Classrooms plays an important role in the rise of Mandarin in the country.

Speaking at a celebration to mark the 10th anniversary of the Confucius Institute for Scotland in Edinburgh this week, Wang said: "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 134 Confucius Classrooms in the UK."

Katharine Carruthers, director of the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute, said,"Confucius Institutes and Confucius Classrooms have played a key role in the increase of Chinese teaching in England and subsequent growth in entrants for the GCSE."

Mark Herbert, head of the schools program at the British Council, said Mandarin is viewed as one of the most important languages for the UK's prosperity over the next 20 years.

Herbert said increased investment in opportunities to support Mandarin teaching in the UK has helped to make the language a more realistic option for more schools.

The British government recently launched a 10 million pound ($12.96million) Mandarin Excellence Program, designed to make teenagers fluent in the language by 2020.

The program has been introduced in secondary schools nationwide, with hundreds of pupils having already begun intensive lessons.

Minister of State for School Standards, Nick Gibb, said, "A high level of fluency in Mandarin will become increasingly important in our globally competitive economy."

However, despite Mandarin growing in popularity among British students, experts say it is a relatively difficult language to master for nonnative speakers.

Zhou Fang,Chinese co-director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Southampton, said, "Children need to learn four different tones for each syllable, which could have a completely different meaning."