By Mike Bastin.

Currently, there are only one-hundred Chinese language teachers across the whole of the United Kingdom (U.K), a pitifully low figure. Yet, it was only in the autumn of 2010 when the British Government announced publicly a new partnership withChinato train one-thousand Mandarin teachers for secondary schools.

Even though the British are notorious for their aversion to learning foreign languages, this lack of suitable Chinese language teachers and resources represents a huge challenge for the future of the U.K economy.

What little foreign language education taking place across U.K schools still centres on European languages such as French, German, Spanish and Italian. These languages remain the priority despite the emergence ofChinaand the Chinese economy.

The U.K is likely to continue to fall behind competitor nations such as the U.S where far more investment is taking place in laying the foundations of a comprehensive Chinese language education system right across the country’s schools.

So, what can be done to change this dire situation in U.K schools? Surprisingly, a lack of suitable teachers is not the biggest obstacle. According to the latest U.K population census there are around 250,000 Chinese people living in the U.K, many of whom are university students. This group is surely the starting point for teacher training and recruitment? Having taught Chinese students in the U.K for many years, I am well aware of their suitability and desire to teach their Mother tongue to British people.

Of course what is also essential is a shift in emphasis from European to Asian languages and Chinese in particular. Such a change in direction can only be led by the U.K government and senior personnel within U.K schools. Investment now will lead to immense benefits long into the future, such as investment in resources and facilities. With no history of Chinese language teaching in the U.K, it is vital that sizeable investment takes place and a comprehensive Chinese language learning environment is established across U.K schools. U.K schoolchildren, at present, have no other place to practice Chinese other than in the classroom and with their Chinese language teacher.

Any such prioritization of the Chinese language within U.K government and school and consequent cash injection, also needs to be matched with the following key initiatives and objectives:

  1. Every U.K school should identify a suitable Chinese school and establish a firm, lasting partnership. This will involve regular correspondence between staff and pupils and increasingly frequent school trips. U.K schoolchildren will then develop friendships with their Chinese counterparts which will no doubt accelerate their language development.
  2. Chinese language classes should be made compulsory across all U.K schools and a minimum of one hour’s teaching per day should take place. This may appear too ambitious and may even be infeasible in many cases; however it is with only such dramatic change that acknowledgement and acceptance of the strategic importance of the Chinese language could be achieved.
  3. Over the next three years, at least two-thirds of the U.K’s schools should have achieved points 1 and 2 above.

 Increasing globalisation means that learning a language is no longer an option, a social nicety, it is an economic necessity and the Chinese language is the absolute priority.

At present parents of U.K schoolchildren will more often than not be keen to ask their children’s teachers, ‘how is their English?’, ‘how is their Maths?’, but in the not too distant future the first comment should be, ‘how is their Chinese?’ !

Mike Bastin is PhD student at School of Contemporary Chinese Studies, University of Nottingham.

Opinions expressed in the CPI blog do not represent the views of the China Policy Institute or the School of Contemporary Chinese Studies at the University of Nottingham. They are the personal views of the bloggers/authors.


  1. As one who has argued this for literally decades, I wholeheartedly support this. the younger children start languages, the better. The British aversion to learning foreign languages (any foreign language!) is already putting us at an economic disadvantage, not to mention making us a less interesting and cultured race.

  2. The current low moral stature and the desperate situation in consequence in general in the mainland China is not so persuasive as to say that it is supportive to the advocacy of Chineses language, as well as Chinese culture, but it does not necessarily mean that there isn’t in them anything of a core value significant positive, but that, for example, the triumphant entrance and the prevailing of democracy eventually in Taiwan where, after fully a half century till the year 1945 under the colony of Japan though, Chinese culture is better preserved, so that coincidently and occasionally it is against the experimental yet incessant and overwhelming political mass movements undertaken to wipe out Chinese culture in the people’s republic right after 1949, and in one way or another since, is to be read as a deadly blow to those – in China and outside of it as well – who think it virtually impossible for China to become a democratic nation. The qustion is, however, whether or not Chinese culture plays at large a role that helps one to be upward rather than downwards, such as in shaping one’s personality individually and his society collectively, a role valueing honor in the first place. Whilst one “crossing river stone by stone”, what the “stone” should have stood for after all one has as yet to know, and what is to be advocated one have to figure out, on behalf of the advocators themselves at least. On the other hand, the ancient civilization of the Far East China, set up in great sharp contrast to the Western civilizations, which may have been most symbolically pointed out as stationed the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword, is a certain challenge to the West: a hard food indeed for those mature and their maturity to be challenged; “Shame be to him who thinks evil of it.”

  3. That is very interesting. I think it’s good that they are embracing and learning foreign languages. Though, Chinese language is quite challenging to earn.

  4. As a Yellow Chinese with a love in Chinese language(s), characters and traditional culture, I see a compulsory national Chinese education in Britain largely unnecessary.

    Firstly, Britain should retain its pride as the world leading power. The Chinese will accept this and learn English themselves as they all recognize the fact that English is the world global lingua franca in commerce as well as an elegant speak. It is this British Pride made Britain and English attractive to the world and many student ‘studying abroad’.

    Secondly, Britain and England is a European countries. It has little imminence to learning Chinese. It should increase its exposure and thus respect for other European language, for example, the Celtic language(s) that were spoken and retrieved in Scotland, Wales and Ireland. Inter-regional and inter-euro-national respect is much more important.

    Thirdly, the Chinese born in Britain and came to Britain are mostly Hongkongese. They speak Cantonese, a language mutually unintelligible with Putonghua and Mandarin, but most of them have some proficiency in written Chinese (Mandarin) in traditional characters. They learn Putonghua not as easily as you may have thought. In another words, they may not be suitable for teaching Chinese.

    Fourthly, you should think about what kind of Chinese should your students be fluent in. Putonghua in speech with written vernacular Chinese (Mandarin) in simplified characters or Cantonese in speech and written Chinese in traditional characters or any combinations of the options. To converse in daily lives vulgarly or to write properly and elegantly. For commerce only or for poetic or art appreciation.

    Fifthly, China is not a country to learn culture from for it has degraded in to a amoral nation. Should you learn the best and the essence of our cultural grandeur learn form the texts. The one in China has totally lost. It is totally unacceptable for children in Britain to feel alike or look up to or assimilate with China.

  5. PS: i mean learn form the poems and basic characters enough for daily use or for fun will be fine. Students in Britain can choose to learn Chinese speech and writing as an option to give a glimpse in to Chinese culture, but all of this should not be done compulsorily at an young age.

    1. I dont think you understand real chinese culture which is more than 3 thousand years. And sorry I HAVE TO say your vision is too limited.

    2. Studies of Chinese languages or writing in the perspectives of philography, linguistics or writing system will be good enough. British students should be monolingual only in Standard English and their rural dialects. I don’t think it is good to have students fluent in speaking Chinese at an early age.

  6. My daughter, who is British, has a degree in Mandarin and spent seven years living in China. She now teaches Mandarin in a private school. However, all this talk of jobs relating to China have never materialised for her. The only jobs that are ever advertised for Mandarin are low level call centre jobs aimed at native speakers and very low paid. SO can someone tell me where all these high powered jobs will be becasue so far we have found none to be available

  7. Foreign language – it’s a difficult thing, especially if it’s Chinese. But some people have some magic skills for learning languages (unfortunately I’m not one of them). The 100 Chinese language teachers in UK should be really gifted… or they are Chinese people who can speak English.

    1. I agree with you. Any foreign language is difficult to learn, but Chinese…I can’t understand how it’s even possible. I have tried it for a month and understood that it’s not for me. So I really respect these people who succeeded in this.

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