In the news: Chinese language

With China ranking as the world’s largest population at an estimated 1.3 billion, and Chinese international migrants representing the largest overseas immigrant population, it is no surprise that Mandarin, the official language of China, is the world’s most spoken native language.

In addition, China’s economic growth, as the world’s largest exporter from 2010 and now the world’s second largest economy after the United States, has elevated demand for the Chinese language, one of the official languages of the UN.

Parents, students, teachers and business leaders around the globe represent some of the many groups recognising the importance of Mandarin as the emerging global business language of the future. Dmitry Medvedev, the Russian President, was even reported to have labelled 2010 as the “Year of Chinese Language”.

In Britain, whilst language courses at secondary school level are no longer compulsory nationwide after age 14, reports actually indicate a wider interest in Chinese language, with a 40% increase in students sitting the GCSE exam in Mandarin Chinese since 2002. In 2010 the total number of students sitting the exam grew by 5% compared to the previous year.

Similarly in the US, an 18.2% increase from 2006 to 2009 was noted in higher education enrolments for Chinese language courses according to the Modern Language Association (MLA), echoing a 4.7 fold increase in the number of US students studying abroad in China in 2009 compared to 1999.

The Sindh provincial government in Pakistan has also announced plans to adopt a far more direct approach, making Chinese language compulsory to all students from Class VI (ages 10-11); whilst Panama has reportedly proposed legislation to make Mandarin classes compulsory in all schools. The Swedish Education Minister has also expressed similar desires to move towards a less Eurocentric curriculum, by adding Chinese language to the foreign language offering.

As China continues to grow as an economic superpower it seems likely that the fashion to study Chinese language will too increase. Although not traditionally an easy language to master, the Chinese Ministry of Education indicates that over 40 million people outside China are currently learning Mandarin and that the number is growing annually. The sharp increase in demand for Chinese language learning is however curbed by a need for qualified teachers. In response, the Chinese government is keen to aid the promotion and awareness of the Chinese language, opening a network, in 2004, of non-profit public institutions, Confucius Institutes, aimed at promoting Chinese language and culture abroad. There are now over 350 Institutes and over 470 Confucius Classrooms worldwide.

Sources: BBC News; Chinese Ministry of Education; CIA: World Factbook; Hanban, The Telegraph.