More than 100 talented young Britons are poised to put in the linguistic performance of a lifetime this week as the country’s only national Mandarin Chinese speaking competition for UK schools gets underway.
Now in its thirteenth 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 - and predicted to become the biggest by 2050[i] - Mandarin Chinese is vital to the UK’s future prosperity and one of the top ten languages recognised as most important for the UK’s influence over the next 20 years[ii]. However, the UK is currently lagging behind in its current uptake of the language with official statistics highlighting that only 3,132 students took a GCSE in Mandarin Chinese last year in comparison to 168,402 who took French and 93,028 students who took Spanish. And despite more than one billion people speaking Mandarin Chinese worldwide, research conducted for the British Council’s Languages for the Future report in 2013 showed that only 1% of UK adults can speak Mandarin Chinese.
Vicky Gough, Schools Adviser at the British Council said: “Languages are crucial for work and life in the global race, and Mandarin Chinese is one of the frontrunners. If the UK is to remain competitive on the international stage, we need far more of our young people to understand more about Chinese language and culture in order to work abroad or for multinationals here in the UK.”
Since 2003, over 2,500 young people have entered the competition which has helped inspire hundreds of young people to further their language studies - some going on to graduate in Mandarin Chinese. Regional heats for this year’s competition were held in London and Newcastle in December 2015, 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 London to Liverpool.
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 will be made up of native and non-native speakers of Mandarin, from a variety of backgrounds.
Lorraine Thomas, Senior Manager Global Education and UK Community Investment at HSBC added: “The competition highlights the importance of cross-cultural understanding and gives young people from the UK an opportunity to develop and improve their language skills. We are delighted to continue supporting the competition and encouraging young people to learn about China.”
The British Council and HSBC have joined forces to run the competition since 2003 and have just launched the ‘Year of the Monkey 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 as part of their 2016 #LearnALanguage campaign. The #LearnALanguage drive – which urges people across the UK to take on a new language in 2016 – includes a short video series on how to start a language learning journey as well as information on various educational opportunities and real-life global connections available for UK learners to understand other languages and cultures.