More than 100 talented young Britons are poised to put in the linguistic performance of a lifetime this week at the grand final of the country’s only national Mandarin speaking competition for UK schools.
Now in its fourteenth year, the HSBC/British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition aims to encourage greater interest in Chinese language and culture and sees young, non-native Mandarin Chinese speakers from across the country battle it out in a bid to win the trip of a lifetime to China.
With China recognised as the world’s second biggest economy, Mandarin Chinese is vital to the UK’s future prosperity. British parents also see it as being the most beneficial non-European language for their children to learn, according to recent research commissioned for the Mandarin Excellence Programme – a new Department for Education funded programme which will see at least 5,000 young people in England on track towards a high level of fluency in Mandarin Chinese by 2020.
And while uptake of Mandarin in UK schools is growing, Mandarin Chinese GCSEs currently make up around one per cent of overall language GCSEs taken. Last year, just over 3,500 Mandarin Chinese GCSEs were sat in England compared to around 140,000 French GCSEs.
School Standards Minister Nick Gibb said: “Studying Mandarin Chinese is both personally enriching for students and a useful means of boosting future career prospects in our globally competitive economy. Thanks to the Mandarin Excellence Programme we are funding, thousands of students will be on track to a high level of fluency in the language in the coming years.
“This competition provides an excellent platform for pupils to show what can be achieved through studying Mandarin Chinese at school, and I congratulate them on reaching this stage.”
Mark Herbert, Head of Schools Programmes at the British Council said:“Mandarin Chinese matters – both to the UK’s future prosperity and to the personal career opportunities of those who speak it. Without more people in our workforce who can understand and communicate effectively with one of the world’s biggest economies, there’s a real risk that the UK will struggle to remain competitive on the world stage.
“On top of that, learning Mandarin is a fascinating process that brings with it a valuable understanding of contemporary and historical Chinese culture. Now more than ever, we need more young people leaving school with a good grasp of Mandarin Chinese in order to successfully work abroad or for multinational businesses here in the UK. This competition is a wonderful celebration of the best of Mandarin teaching and learning across the UK and I hope that more schools will give their pupils the option of learning this vital language.”
Since 2003, over 2,500 young people have entered the competition which has helped inspire hundreds of young people to further their language studies. Regional heats for this year’s competition were held in London and Newcastle in late 2016, with only the best making it through to the final at the British Museum in London. The youngsters come from secondary schools across the country – from Edinburgh to Manchester to London.
They will compete in either the Individual Language Ability or Group Performance section. In the Individual section, contestants give a short presentation in Mandarin, translate sentences from English into Mandarin and are tested on their knowledge of China and Chinese culture. In the Group Performance section, groups of between four and six students perform a piece of drama in Chinese – involving imaginative performances and costumes. The judging panel is made up of native and non-native speakers of Mandarin, from a variety of backgrounds.
Alison Coates, Senior Manager, Global Education and UK Community Investment, HSBC added: “This competition gives young people from around the UK a great opportunity to develop and improve their language skills. We are delighted to continue supporting the competition and encouraging young people to build their language and cultural understanding.”
The British Council and HSBC have joined forces to run the competition since 2003 and have just launched the ‘Year of the Rooster Primary Education Pack’ to help children across the UK celebrate Chinese New Year and learn more about Chinese language and culture. The pack has been sent to every primary school in the country. More widely, the British Council is also encouraging people across the UK to find out why #MandarinMatters in an online drive this week.