Why Teach Mandarin at Your School, and Why Should Students Learn It?

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Chinese is one of the few languages defying the downward trend in GCSE enrollment.

Mandarin’s standing has improved significantly over the past ten years; it fiercely vies with French and Spanish for MFL curriculum time, students, and personnel resources in many comprehensive schools and is no longer restricted to top public schools.

The rise of Mandarin is partly due to outside assistance, particularly from the Chinese government, which subsidizes the cost of native language assistants in many classrooms. Still, it is also attributable to the conviction that Chinese is more useful, current, and relevant for students than traditional French and German.

In a recent study of 1,000 British parents, Hanban (China’s counterpart of the British Council) found that more than half thought learning Chinese would benefit their children’s future careers.

When he said, “China will be the world’s largest economy when pupils enter society,” David Cameron ignited the Mandarin shift. Therefore, it is time for us to shift our attention away from French and German and toward teaching Chinese to more kids.

While Mandarin is hailed as one of the “absolutely best investments you can make,” according to a well-known language learning website.

The justifications for learning Chinese all seem to revolve around the expanding Chinese economy (especially in light of the changing nature of trade agreements post-Brexit), an opening up to foreign investment, and the requirement to equip students with the necessary skills for the future job market.

This method runs the risk of making Chinese the latest in a long line of “fireworks” languages, which burst into our classrooms with a stunning display of drama and colour before quickly fading away.

Before being surpassed by China, the economies of Japan and Russia both contributed significantly in the 1980s and 1990s.

While funding boosts to promote Mandarin are welcome, we must ensure that Chinese is more than a passing trend. To do this, we must defend the value of learning languages for their own sake.

A common heritage

If I reference a “shared past,” don’t worry; I’m not talking about the Opium Wars or the Cold War. Simply put, people born in China do not automatically possess the incredible accomplishments of China’s past.

Who is to say that in an increasingly interconnected world, the ideas of a toga-clad Greek are more or less important to our students than those of a Tang dynasty poet?

Whether it’s Hadrian’s Wall or the Great Wall, the accomplishments of earlier civilizations are part of humanity’s collective heritage and should be valued for their own merits.

Languages are the finest way to introduce people to great ideas that were not thought of in English; according to the adage, we should teach “the greatest that has been thought and expressed” by Matthew Arnold.

No one can dispute that learning a language is an investment in the future, but not in the sense of raising a learner’s potential earnings. In doing so, we risk tying our current educational principles to the economic demands of an unknowable future, which is the wrong way to think about things.

Visionaries who can only see further by standing on the shoulders of the giants of former civilizations will progress in the future.

Furthermore, only those who have taken the time to learn from their past failures will be able to meet the challenges that lie ahead. It is essential to acknowledge that both Eastern and Western civilizations have contributed brilliant ideas and major historical errors.

The next generation will be prepared to create a brighter future if we base our educational philosophies on the objective of passing down the best concepts from the past.

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