More than 130 talented school pupils will be putting in the linguistic performance of a lifetime today in a bid to be crowned the country’s best non-native Mandarin speakers.
Taking to the stage at the grand final of the HSBC/British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition, young people from across the country will showcase their Mandarin skills in an attempt to win the trip of a lifetime to China.
Now in its fifteenth year, the national competition aims to encourage greater interest in Chinese language and culture. The finalists come from 42 state and independent secondary schools from across the UK including Edinburgh, Manchester and London. Schools from Northern Ireland are also competing for the first time this year.
As the most spoken language in the world, Mandarin Chinese is vital for the UK’s place in the world. In fact, recent British Council research has highlighted that Mandarin is the non-European language the UK will need most once the country leaves the European Union.
And while drives such as the Department for Education’s Mandarin Excellence Programme are successfully encouraging Mandarin uptake in schools, numbers are low when compared to other more traditional languages. Last year, just over 4,000 students took a GCSE in Chinese compared to around 130,000 students who took French and over 90,000 students who took Spanish.
Mark Herbert, Head of Schools Programmes at the British Council said: “Mandarin Chinese is one of the languages that matters most to the UK’s future prosperity. Pupils across the country are proving that it possible to make great progress with learning Mandarin. However with more than one billion Mandarin Chinese speakers in the world, it is vital that even more of our young people learn this valuable language in order to live in an increasingly connected and globalised economy.”
Alison Coates, Global Head of Future Skills, HSBC added: “This competition gives young people from around the UK a great opportunity to develop and improve their language skills – helping them to become more employable, global citizens. We are delighted to support the competition and help build the future skills of a generation.”
Since 2003, over 3,500 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, York and Belfast, with only the best making it through to the final at the British Museum in London.
Pupils 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.
The British Council and HSBC have joined forces to run the competition since 2003. The British Council has also just launched the ‘Year of the Dog Primary Education Pack’ to help children across the UK celebrate Chinese New Year and learn more about China and its culture.