David Cameron urges British students to ditch French and learn Mandarin

PM ends three-day visit to China by telling young people that they should learn the language that will 'seal tomorrow's business deals'.

  • Nicholas Watt in Chengdu and Richard Adams.

  • The Guardian, Thursday 5 December 2013


"By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world's largest economy. So it's time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin".

"As Mandela once said: 'If you talk to a man in a language he understands that goes to his head, if you talk to him in his own language that goes to his heart.'"

Most Chinese children learn English. So why should British kids learn Chinese?


Many children learn Chinese already

In February 2006, Reuters estimated there are over 500 million English speakers in India and China, or rather more than the number of "mother-tongue" speakers from Britain and the United States. It is believed that, within the next ten years, the number of foreign students studying English as a second language will peak at around 2 billion.


Opportunities for kids to learn Chinese now

British schools can now find a partner school in China, sharing educational experiences and even collaborating on projects in sport, art and music. The British Council also offers a fortnight-long immersion course for English teachers or students in China and has sponsored a Chinese-speaking competition, with entrants aged 13 to as young as 7. And it is clearly better to start early: "Teaching Mandarin to our pupils from a young age offers them the best preparation for an exciting future. The earlier they start the better", affirms Manchester High School for Girls' headmistress, Christine Lee-Jones.

Boris Johnson

Mayor of London

The Mayor of London, who is studying Mandarin himself, suggested Britons should be learning as much as possible about China as the East Asian giant continues to expand its global influence.

On Monday he told university students in Beijing his 16-year-old daughter was learning Mandarin and was due to visit China next week.

Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie

Holywood Stars

According to The Sun, the famous couple have developed a new found interest in China and are apparently getting stuck into their Mandarin lessons.

Pilou Asbaek

The Host of Eurovision Song Contest 2014

He showcased his excellent Mandarin Language when presenting the show.


Mark Zuckerberg speaks fluent Mandarin like a boss

Facebook co-founder Mark Zuckerberg impressed a Chinese audience at Tsinghua University in Beijing on Wednesday by delivering a speech and a Q&A session entirely in Chinese Mandarin. He even cracked some jokes. Evidently, Zuckerberg started studying Mandarin in 2010, saying it was his "personal challenge."


"I have always been interested in Chinese culture and learning a language is a great way to learn about a culture," Zuckerberg wrote.


He also noted that some of the family of his wife, Priscilla, only speak Mandarin and he hoped to converse with them.


This is a great effort from a determined man,  for not only mastering the internet by the age of 30 but also somehow finding time to learn the world’s most difficult language.