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David Cameron, who has notoriously poor schoolboy French, is urging today's youngsters to abandon the language of Molière and Voltaire to concentrate on the tongue of the future – Mandarin.

To reinforce his message the prime minister quoted Nelson Mandela, who said learning someone else's language is the best way to their heart. 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."

 

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.'

It is particularly significant given that recent British Council research shows that Mandarin is one of 10 languages not widely spoken in the UK and yet crucial to our future growth and prosperity.

In recent research the British Council placed Mandarin in the top five most important languages for Britain's future prosperity, security and influence. But it found only 1% of the adult population speaks Mandarin to a level that allows them to conduct a basic conversation.

Just 3,000 pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland entered for Chinese languages GCSEs in 2013, putting it far behind the traditional choices of French with 177,000, Spanish with 91,000 and German with 62,000 entrants, as well as Urdu, Polish and Arabic.

But the popularity of Chinese languages improves at A-level, where it was the fourth most popular modern language in 2013, with 3,300 entrants compared with 11,000 taking A-level French and 4,200 taking German.

Professor Dame Helen Wallace, the British Academy's foreign secretary, said her organisation had been arguing for an improvement in foreign language skills, and had identified Mandarin as one of the extended range of languages to be promoted in schools.

Source: The Guardian
http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2013/dec/05/david-cameron-ditch-french-learn-mandarin-china
Nicholas Watt in Chengdu and Richard Adams; Photography: AP

 

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