Thursday 05 January 2017


UK parents see Mandarin Chinese as the ‘most beneficial’ non-European language for their children to learn, according to new research released today as part of the Mandarin Excellence Programme which launched in September 2016.

Amongst more than 1,000 UK adults with children under the age of 18, Mandarin Chinese was viewed by parents as one of the most important languages for young Britons to learn with 35 per cent of those surveyed picking it in their top three when asked which languages they thought would be most valuable for their children’s futures.

When questioned specifically about Mandarin Chinese, more than half (51 per cent) of parents said they thought that learning the language would boost their children’s career prospects while 56 per cent saw it as a skill that would open their children’s minds to an ‘exciting and dynamic’ culture. A similar number (51 per cent) stated that they would like their children to have the opportunity to study Mandarin with more than a quarter (27 per cent) saying that they would actively be encouraging their children to learn the language.

And while the more traditional languages French, Spanish and German were favourites overall (picked in the top three by 57 per cent, 54 per cent and 40 per cent of parents respectively), Mandarin Chinese was considered the most vital non-European language for young people in the UK to speak – well-ahead of Arabic and Japanese (both 14 per cent).

Carried out by Populus, the new survey has been commissioned as part of the Mandarin Excellence Programme – which aims to see at least 5,000 young people in England on track to a high level of fluency in Mandarin Chinese by 2020. The new Department for Education programme, which is the first language learning initiative of its kind in the UK, has seen hundreds of secondary school pupils in England start intensive Mandarin lessons since September 2016. The programme is being led by participating schools, supported by the UCL Institute of Education (IOE) in partnership with the British Council.

Commenting on the programme when it launched, Katharine Carruthers, Director of the UCL Institute Of Education (IOE), said:

“The UCL Institute of Education is delighted to be delivering the DfE’s Mandarin Excellence Programme. Over the last decade, our work in schools has inspired increasing numbers of secondary school pupils to take up Mandarin Chinese. This programme provides a real boost and unique opportunity for more motivated pupils to be on track towards fluency in Mandarin.

“We are also developing new innovative teaching methods which will benefit the young people on the programme as well as the wider cohort of pupils learning Mandarin Chinese in our schools. The Mandarin Excellence Programme will undoubtedly help to further the UK’s relationship with China at all levels.”

Mark Herbert, Head of Schools Programmes at the British Council, said:

“With the global economy becoming more interconnected and the drive to boost exports, language skills are increasingly vital for work and life. 

“Mandarin Chinese is one of the languages that matter most to the UK’s future prosperity. If the UK is to remain competitive on the world stage, we need far more of our young people leaving school with a good grasp of Mandarin in order to successfully work abroad or for businesses here in the UK.  Learning Mandarin is also a fascinating process that brings a valuable understanding of Chinese culture. ”

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, and is seen as important for young people in the UK to master in order for the country to remain globally competitive in the future. Secondary school pupils on the Mandarin Excellence Programme are studying the language for an average of eight hours a week over the course of the next four years – a significant increase on the one to two hours per week that most Year 7 secondary pupils currently spend studying a language. 

The IOE already has a network of 45 Confucius Classrooms across England and supports schools in starting and developing the teaching and learning of Mandarin Chinese and the study of China across other areas of the curriculum.

Schools in England can find out more about the Mandarin Excellence Programme and register their interest here:

Notes to Editor

For more information, contact Kristen McNicoll in the British Council Press Office on 020 7389 4967 / 07765 898 738 / Out-of-hours 07469 375160 or  

Department for Education Enquiries

Central newsdesk 020 7783 8300

General enquiries 0370 000 2288

Notes to Editors

Populus interviewed a random sample of 1,138 UK adults aged 18+ with children aged under 18 from its online panel between 30th November – 4th December 2016. Surveys were conducted across the country and the results have been weighted to the profile of all adults. Please note that some of the figures used exclude those who selected ‘not applicable’. Populus is a founder member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Further information at

In 2013, the British Council’s Languages for the Future report found the top ten languages most important for the UK’s future prosperity were: Spanish, Arabic, French, Mandarin Chinese, German, Portuguese, Italian, Russian, Turkish and Japanese.

Current uptake for these languages at GCSE level (figures from JCQ) is:


GCSE uptake 2015

GCSE uptake 2016










Mandarin Chinese





















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