Mandarin gaining in popularity

By Cecily Liu ( China Daily ) Updated: 2013-12-02 13:26:56

Mandarin gaining in popularity

Ahead of his trip to China, British Prime Minister David Cameron meets with a student from Bohunt School who has been learning Mandarin. Cameron will pay an official visit to China from Monday to Wednesday. Wang Lili / Xinhua

On Saturday morning, while taking a stroll in London's Regent's Park, I was greeted by a sweet, soft voice behind me saying, "Ni hao", which means "hello" in Chinese.

Mandarin gaining in popularity

I turned around and was surprised to find that the voice came from a blonde girl, about 10 years old, who stared at me with wide, blue eyes full of curiosity. I greeted her and she told me her name and school in simple Chinese sentences.

Her spoken Chinese was not fluent, but her courage to practice it with a stranger surprised me and drew us closer immediately. Her mother later told me that the little girl had just learned some new Chinese words at school and was keen to practice them.

Perhaps such an encounter is not so surprising, considering that British Prime Minister David Cameron has been encouraging British schoolchildren to learn Chinese ahead of his visit to China.

On a recent visit to schools, Cameron asked the children what message they'd like him to deliver to Premier Li Keqiang and asked them to tell him their messages in Chinese, using words they have learned at school.

The children promptly did so, demonstrating the fruits of a surge in the popularity of Mandarin classes in recent years.

One factor in this surge is the growth of Confucius Institutes in the UK, which are Mandarin-teaching centers built on university campuses. More than 10 Confucius Institutes have been established in the UK so far, each one sending tutors to help teach Mandarin to a handful of neighboring primary and secondary schools.

More and more British schools are incorporating Mandarin into their foreign-language curriculums, alongside traditionally popular languages like French and German.


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