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UK: learning Mandarin will give children ‘significant’ career boost

More than three-quarters of UK business leaders believe fluency in Mandarin Chinese will give school leavers a career advantage, with more than a quarter saying it would be ‘significant’, according to a survey commissioned by the Mandarin Excellence Programme.

77% said that speaking Mandarin would be beneficial to school pupils in their future careers. Photo: Flickr/ marco antonio torres

82% agreed that language teaching in schools should reflect important potential growth markets for British trade and business

The MEP, which is delivered by the UCL Institute of Education in partnership with the British Council, is an intensive language program that was introduced in 2016 to increase the number of young people with Mandarin language skills.

Out of 1,154 senior decision makers surveyed in February 2018, 77% said that speaking a high level of Mandarin would be beneficial to school pupils in their future careers.

“The Programme is on track to have 5,000 pupils fluent in Mandarin by 2020”

Of the total respondents, 28% said the advantage to school leavers would be ‘significant’, with this percentage rising to 31% amongst those working for companies with an annual turnover of £10 million or more.

The survey also found that 69% felt that Mandarin Chinese skills – particularly conversational – would be important for UK businesses and the economy in future, although 66% said that it is currently difficult to recruit fluent speakers from within the UK workforce.

When asked about language learning more widely, 82% agreed that language teaching in schools “should reflect important potential growth markets for British trade and business”.

Respondents came from a variety of sectors including manufacturing, construction, medical and finance, and a mix of small, medium and large organisations across the country.

82% agreed that language teaching “should reflect important potential growth markets”. Image: YouGov


Commenting on the findings, UK schools minister Nick Gibb said young people who are fluent in Mandarin will be at an advantage when competing for jobs with their peers from around the world.

“Education standards are rising… but we must do more to ensure our education system is fit for the future demands of a modern economy,” Gibb said.

“That is why we introduced the Mandarin Excellence Programme, which is on track to have 5,000 pupils fluent in Mandarin by 2020.

“The enthusiasm and energy that both pupils and teachers are committing to this program is inspiring, and will help Britain to compete in an increasingly global economy.”

Official figures from the Joint Council for Qualifications highlight a 7.3% drop in the number of pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking GCSE language exams in 2017.

A total of 4,104 students took Mandarin Chinese at GCSE level in the UK, as compared with 130,509 who took French.

However, head of Schools Programmes at the British Council Mark Herbert told The PIE News that Mandarin is becoming an increasingly popular language to learn.

“By the time these children complete the program, they will be approaching fluency”

“Academically, Mandarin is really interesting because it provides access to the culture and history of China,” Herbert said.

“Mandarin is a key language that [businesses] are looking for in their workforce in the future, so children who have fluency automatically have a leg up in their CV and have a career advantage.

Herbert said that because the MEP is an intensive program that requires hard work and dedication, extra funding is provided to the schools that deliver it.

“It’s intense, but the pupils have an opportunity to progress much more rapidly than with traditional European languages such as Spanish, French or German. By the time these children complete the program, they will be approaching fluency,” he said.

Director of the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute Katharine Carruthers added that MEP pupils, their parents and UK businesses should be encouraged by the success of the program.

“Employers can feel reassured that there are young people coming through the school system who can meet business needs when it comes to communicating with one of the UK’s largest trading partners,” she added.

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2 Responses to UK: learning Mandarin will give children ‘significant’ career boost

  1. Any initiative to get more UK people learning another language is to be welcomed, be it Mandarin, Spanish, Arabic or any other language.
    One problem in the UK is that one never hears foreign songs on the radio and until recently, rarely saw any foreign drama on tv. Thankfully, Channel 4 and Walter Presents are doing a grand job in airing many fantastic foreign dramas – subtitled which allows the audience to hear the language being spoken.
    Another barrier in the UK is that, whilst business states it wants its employees to speak other languages, rarely are they prepared to pay for such a skill. See most job ads where language skills are classed as an advantage but not essential…
    I never understand why kids in the UK aren’t required to start learning a language at infant/junior school age. Very often it’s too late to motivate a teenager to learn a new language.
    Ironically, post-Brexit, people more generally might be inclined to learn a language as new or previously ignored markets open up.
    I say all the above as a Englishman who speaks Spanish, German and French.

  2. I think it’s great the UK is trying to increase the amount of people learning Mandarin, it will increase tolerance and diversity as well as increasing career prospects in the future. It’s language which I have enjoyed learning myself too.

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