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The expansion of Mandarin must lead to the evolution of teaching on offer.

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Mandarin: an essential tool of communication

The increasing mobility of students, employees and tourists is impacting the development of Mandarin in the world. A twofold process is at work: the expansion of Chinese people’s mobility beyond the Chinese borders and the Middle Kingdom’s growing attractiveness for non-Chinese people.

According to the French Ministry of Education’s General Inspector of Chinese, in 2012, Chinese students enrolled in foreign universities amounted to 14% of students worldwide who are living away from their country of origin. And this figure is rapidly increasing. In the same way, several universities are developing partnerships with their Chinese counterparts. According to the Chinese Ministry of Education, there were about 1,200 Sino-foreign education programmes in 2012. For instance, the College of Engineering of the University of California, Berkeley, just opened the Shanghai Zhangjiang Berkeley Engineering Innovation Center in Shanghai on the 15th of November 2013, which aims to strengthen research and educational partnerships with China.

Along with China’s economic boom, Mandarin is becoming a golden ticket for employment, especially within a foreign company set up in China or a Chinese company investing in Europe. Lastly, another major factor is increasing mobility: China is becoming a top tourist destination in the world and Chinese tourists are also increasingly travelling abroad (3.5 million Chinese tourists in Europe in 2013).

The challenge to better foster students learning Chinese

The rapid development of Chinese courses worldwide requires certain adaptations. In particular, there is a worrying deficit of classroom teachers to meet the high demand for Mandarin courses.

Moreover, schools and universities must adapt to the evolution of students’ tastes in foreign languages. For instance, it is now possible to study Chinese in some French high schools, but most higher education schools’ selective entry exams do not offer Chinese.

Lastly, some reluctance still remains as Chinese is seen as a rare and difficult language. Many sceptics regard enthusiasm for Chinese as a trend of the same kind as Japanese at the beginning of the year 2000.

To meet the challenges created by the soaring demand for Chinese courses (number and quality of teachers, development in high schools, continuous teaching), a first step would be to regard this demand as a structural trend. The changing status of the Chinese language demonstrates this fact: in 2011, there were over 50 Chinese-language immersion programmes at US schools for children in grades 12 and below, compared to about a dozen in 2005. Moreover, more and more students are certifying their level of Chinese language by taking the HSK official test.