Politicians are urging children to learn the language—but they don’t know how hard it isby Jonathan Mirsky / March 27, 2014 / Leave a comment
Published in April 2014 issue of Prospect Magazine
After more than two years of studying Chinese at Columbia, says Mirsky, “I could say almost nothing.” ©John Downing/Rex
Just before leaving China in December last year, David Cameron set British children a daunting task: “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… 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.”
Daunting indeed. Only 3,000 pupils in England, Wales and Northern Ireland took written Chinese GCSEs in 2013, compared with 177,000 taking GCSEs in French and 62,000 in German. But Chinese is the fourth most popular language at A-Level. And in the US, about 60,000 school children are learning it.