Currently, there are only 4,200 UK students studying Mandarin in China, and only 9% of secondary teachers said their schools offer Mandarin lessons
“I want Britain linked up to the world’s fast growing economies – and that includes our young people learning the languages to seal tomorrow’s business deals,” he said, noting that China is predicted to become the world’s largest economy by the time children born today leave school.
The Prime Minister announced a number of measures to boost Mandarin teaching in the UK including a deal between The British Council and the Hanban, China’s national office for the teaching of Chinese as a foreign language, to double the number of pupils studying Mandarin in the UK by 2016 to 400,000, along with the number of Chinese language assistants.
The target echoes a proposal put forward by Members of Scottish Parliament in June to double the number of school students in Scotland gaining qualifications in the language by 2017.
The UK government will provide subsidies for schools to train language teachers and pay for 60 headteachers to visit China on study trips in 2014.
A British Council report released last month listed Mandarin as the second most important language to be taught in UK schools, but showed that only around 1% of adults said they could speak the language at a conversational level.
Currently, there are only 4,200 UK students studying Mandarin in China, and only 9% of secondary teachers said their schools offer Mandarin lessons, according to a recent YouGov poll. Just 2,541 students took a GCSE in Mandarin in 2012, a fall of over 1,100 since 2010.
Managing Director of internship and volunteer programme provider IES Global, Joanne Wong, commended Cameron for highlighting where the UK is “lagging behind in terms of study” compared to other countries.
“Encouragement in Mandarin study… will only lead to great things for UK and China relations,” she said, adding “UK will benefit a lot in increased trade, investment, tourism, long term study in China.”