Teach UK pupils Mandarin, urges PM

Congleton Guardian: David Cameron meets pupils from Long Jiang Lu Primary School in Chengdu, as part of his three day visit to China David Cameron meets pupils from Long Jiang Lu Primary School in Chengdu, as part of his three day visit to China

More British schoolchildren should be learning Chinese, rather than French or German, Prime Minister David Cameron has said.

Speaking as he completed a three-day visit to the Far Eastern state, Mr Cameron said China will be the world's biggest economy by the time children born today leave school, meaning that they will benefit from learning its dominant language, Mandarin.

Setting a goal of doubling Mandarin learners to 400,000, the PM said the number of Chinese language assistants in the UK is to be doubled by 2016, while funding will be increased to reduce the cost to schools of providing Mandarin training.

As part of a package from the British Council and the Chinese National Office for Teaching of Chinese as a Foreign Language - known as Hanban - to promote Chinese language learning in the UK, partnerships will be forged between schools in the two countries, and 60 headteachers will be funded to go on study visits to China in 2014.

On his final day in China, Mr Cameron visited a school in the south-western city of Chengdu to meet six- and seven-year-olds learning English.

Mr Cameron said: "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.

"By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world's largest economy. So it's time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin.

"As Mandela once said 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head; if you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart'."

Before his second trip to China as PM, he invited students from the Bohunt Academy - where pupils receive a third of their curriculum in Mandarin - into Downing Street.

Recent research by the British Council puts Mandarin Chinese in the top five most important languages for the UK's prosperity, security and influence in future years, yet only 1% of the UK's adult population speak Mandarin Chinese well enough to hold a conversation.

The British Council has also agreed to teach 50,000 English teachers in China over the next three years as part of National Teacher Training Programme.

In further tie-ups:

:: A group of Britain's British maths teachers will go to China to investigate maths and science teaching in schools to identify ideas that could drive standards up in British schools.

:: China will launch private sector-funded partnerships under the British Council Generation UK Initiative which aims to increase the number of UK students going to work or study in China to 15,000 over the next three years.

From September 2014, the new national curriculum will make studying foreign languages compulsory in primary schools, rather than waiting until pupils reach secondary school. Schools have the freedom to choose which languages they want to teach.

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