2018 has seen a decline in the number of students taking modern languages at A-level in the UK, mainly in French, German and Spanish. Whilst the overall numbers of students in modern languages is suffering, Mandarin Chinese is going against the trend and has increased by 8.6 percent since 2017. This makes it the third most popular modern language at A-level for the first time ever.
Whilst Chinese is increasing in popularity, German in particular seems to be declining in contrast, with 16.5 percent less pupils this year compared to last year. Germany was an economic leader in Europe in previous decades, but this is no longer the case. China is now an up and coming leader in the global economy, which makes Mandarin a more relevant and useful language for current pupils in later life.
Xiaoming Zhu, a Mandarin Chinese teacher for the last 20 years, states that “Schools make the decision to introduce Mandarin because they want to give their students an opportunity to learn another rich language and culture”. She also acknowledges that Mandarin is very accessible for young students. Private schools in particular seem to be introducing Chinese, including Gloucestershire private schools.
State schools are not as prolific in their teaching of Chinese as privately run schools (such as https://hopelands.org.uk/), and more Chinese pupils have been enrolling in these independent schools in the past few years. According to Independent School Council data, the number of Chinese students sent to Britain has almost doubled in the last five years.
Whilst the increase in students learning Chinese is encouraging, it’s important not to let the number of pupils studying German, French and Spanish become too low; European languages will remain in demand, especially due to Brexit, for future UK-Euro trading. The Department for Education in England has recently set up a language ‘hub’ network in order to try to encourage future students to learn modern languages, in the face of rapidly declining numbers.
French student numbers fell this year by eight percent, whilst Spanish numbers declined by four percent in comparison to last year. The increase in Chinese language learners can only be a positive outcome, meaning that the future generation of Britain will be familiar with, and respectful of, a modern global powerhouse.