Chinese fever

By Sun Wei Source:Global Times Published: 2019/2/27 21:53:40

Number of Putonghua learners rises in Britain

Katharine Carruthers Photo: Courtesy of K. Carruthers

Editor's Note:

Themed "Dialogue for the Future: opportunities for two societies," the third Sino British Summit was held on February 21 in London. On the sidelines, Global Times (GT) London correspondent Sun Wei discussed the current Putonghua (or Mandarin in the text) fever in the UK with Katharine Carruthers (Carruthers), Director of the UCL Institute of Education's Confucius Institute for Schools (IOE CI), and Strategic Director for the delivery of the UK Department for Education's Mandarin Excellence Programme (MEP). 

GT: What's the current trend of learning Chinese in the UK?

Carruthers: One thing that is happening is the increase in numbers which are going steadily up. The other thing which pleases me is that there's an increasing depth: schools that were teaching Mandarin just tended to teach up to maybe 14 years old, but now pupils are taking GCSEs (General Certificate of Secondary Education) and A level's in Chinese too. So the depth of the approach is increasing.

The earlier you start learning a foreign language the better, so it would be nice to do more in primary schools and we would certainly like to see that happening. There are primary schools that teach Chinese and do a lot of work on Chinese festivals and things that enhance knowledge of China. The focus of the government's Mandarin Excellence Programme is in secondary schools.

The third Sino British Summit, entitled "Dialogue for the Future: opportunities for two societies," is held at the Dorchester Hotel in London on February 21. Photo: Sun Wei/GT

GT: What has been done to promote Chinese learning in the UK?

Carruthers: The IOE Confucius Institute was established in 2006, although we had built up a relationship with schools teaching Chinese before that. This involved developing a relationship with Hanban (Confucius Institute Headquarters). Our goal was to create a Confucius Institute for schools here in England - something that we achieved.

Across England there are 45 UCL IOE Confucius classrooms now. We don't just help the Confucius Classrooms, we support the development of teaching and learning of Chinese in any school. We've done a lot of work on trying to facilitate it and we've done it by getting the assessment right. If children are going to get very poor results in Chinese, they're not going to do it. So you need to make the assessment at the right level, then you need good teaching material which we've written and produced with Pearson Education and with academic review from Peking University. At the IOE what we do very successfully is train teachers - we have the Mandarin Chinese PGCE (Postgraduate Certificate in Education), the qualification you need to be a teacher in this country. That means we can grow something that's really sustainable and grow the number of qualified local teachers.

Teaching assistants from China come not only to support the development of Chinese in schools, but also go out and run Chinese clubs and introductory lessons. To sustain the growth of Chinese learning, it's got to sit alongside French, German, Spanish. It's quite a system change. With the support of the Hanban teachers, you can take children out for some special speaking and writing practice, that's really helping grow Chinese language in schools.

GT: In 2016, the British government poured 10 million pounds ($13.2 million) into launching the Mandarin Excellence Programme(MEP), how is the project going?

Carruthers: The project is quite specific: to get 5,000 school pupils in England on track to fluency in Mandarin Chinese by 2020. If pupils want to be on the programme, they need to do four taught hours which is double of what they normally do for foreign language lessons a week, and four hours of self study from year seven, which is from the age of 11. It's a really exciting development because it's proving that the British can actually speak other languages if you give them enough curriculum time.  

I think the government is really pleased with the development of the MEP. We've got 64 schools on the programme now. There are over 3,000 learners, by next year there will be 5,000. It's not something you just do for a while. Pupils sign up for it throughout school right up to 18 years old or certainly right up to 16. It's also raising aspirations and has a role to play in the Golden Era of China-UK relations which is really important.

GT: What's the ratio of non-native speakers in IOE's PGCE programme? How is teaching Chinese as a career in the UK?

Carruthers: On the whole, it's been about two-third native speakers and one-third non-native speakers. There are British people who, like me, have studied Chinese and would like to forge a career teaching Chinese in schools, and things have progressed so that job opportunities and demand for Chinese teachers are now at their greatest. Newly Qualified Teachers graduating through the UCL IOE PGCE get snapped up by schools.  

Chinese needs to stand on its own feet next to other subjects. By growing the number of qualified teachers the number of students studying Chinese on curriculum will also grow. Now the young people who are applying to be teachers are amazing in terms of flexibility of approach and openness. That's a really positive thing. 

GT: What can we conclude from the rise in numbers for learning Chinese?

Carruthers: It's partly driven by potential future business, but when the children come into the class, they like learning the characters and are interested in the culture. Our teachers bring aspects of Chinese culture to the classroom rather than just providing a sort of functional language instruction.  

Learning foreign languages is about motivation. If you keep the motivation levels up by bringing cultural elements, the children are interested. They like the flexibility, and are very good at component recognition.  

GT: There has been some criticism of Confucius Institutes recently by the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission. What's your response? 

Carruthers: The report does not have much reference to UK Confucius Institutes. One thing I can say from my own personal experience is that nobody in China has ever tried to influence in any way whatsoever. We have co-created Confucius Institutes. Our Chinese partners have been great listeners and they helped facilitate and made it possible for us to do our job. What our Confucius Institute wants to do is to ensure that Chinese is an option in schools alongside other European languages. I have only had an extremely positive relationship with Hanban and they have been extremely supportive.


blog comments powered by Disqus