British School Requires Students to Study Chinese
STEVE INSKEEP, host:
Imagine the day when a student athlete desperately wants to keep his grades high enough to play, but first he has to pass that required course in Chinese.
Maybe that day isn't so far off. Plenty of parents with an eye on the future are wondering if their kids should learn the language of the growing economic power across the Pacific.
China's government says it wants 100 million people around the world to learn Mandarin Chinese by the year 2010 and some countries are picking up the challenge, including Britain--where high schools are starting to teach Chinese. NPR's Rob Gifford reports.
ROB GIFFORD reporting:
In a cavernous, wood-paneled hall of one of Britain's best-known private schools, Xu Lin is wrapping up a presentation to a room full of 200 British schoolteachers. Xu is the director general of the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language.
(Soundbite of applause)
GIFFORD: Her mission: to encourage foreigners to study Chinese, not just by going to China, but in their own schools around Europe and North America.
Ms. XU LIN (Director General, National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language): I think now for China, young generation, they know western more than western young generation, know China. For me, this is my mission. I should do my best to help the western next generation know more China culture and also China language.
GIFFORD: Xu's trips abroad to promote the learning of the Chinese language, coincide with the Chinese government's broader charm offensive, aimed at portraying the rise of China--not as a threat, but as an opportunity. They also coincide with a huge upsurge of interest in China in the U.K. This conference, held at Wellington College is being attended by teachers from public and private schools alike--many of them considering whether to start the teaching of Mandarin Chinese.
The U.K. may seem something of a hard sell for Xu Lin. It has, after all, traditionally been a country whose attitude towards foreigners speaking foreign languages has frequently been, if they don't understand English, just shout louder.
Dr. ANTHONY SELDON (Headmaster, Wellington College, Berkshire, United Kingdom; Author): Foreign language teaching is in a crisis in this country.
GIFFORD: One of the main visionaries promoting Mandarin in the U.K. is Anthony Seldon, biographer of Tony Blair and John Major and Headmaster of Wellington. He says the promotion of Chinese in British high schools is crucial for Britain to stay competitive.
Dr. SELDON: I'm concerned, by the 21st century, I think, within 10 years we need to have as many children in Britain learning Mandarin as are currently learning French.
Unidentified Speaker: (Foreign language spoken)
Unidentified Speakers: (Foreign language spoken)
GIFFORD: One school that's already teaching Mandarin Chinese is Kingsford Community School in East London. All students must study three years of Mandarin when they arrive at the school aged 11. They can then choose whether to continue to age 16. Head teacher Joan Deslandes says it opens up many doors for her students.
Ms. JOAN DESLANDES (Head Teacher, Kingsford Community School, East London, United Kingdom): I think it is the future and we've now begun to introduce Mandarin into our feeder primary schools because of the interest being expressed there.
GIFFORD: Kingsford students go on a three-week language course in China and they're offered work experience there, too. Joan Deslandes says there are other benefits such as helping dyslexic children for whom learning Chinese characters appears to be easier than learning an alphabetical language like French. Students Shawn O'Shea(ph) and Anna Atchivarese(ph) sitting in the Mandarin lesson, say their friends in other schools are envious.
Mr. SHAWN O'SHEA (Student, Kingsford Community School, East London, United Kingdom): Yeah, it's very interesting because it surprises most people and it broadens your horizons. It allows you to do things what other people don't ever get a chance to do, like visit China.
Ms. ANNA ATCHIVARESE (Student, Kingsford Community School, East London, United Kingdom): I think it's fantastic because having languages is really important and makes your career prospects much better.
GIFFORD: The United States is looking to augment its Chinese teaching too. A bill is before Congress that would allocate $1.3 million to educational and cultural exchange programs with China, including an increase in the teaching of Mandarin Chinese in American schools. Rob Gifford, NPR News, London.
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