Eastern promise: Manchester urged to learn Mandarin to break down great wall in business with China

More students need to take up Mandarin if Manchester is to be competitive and bring in Chinese business claims leading business initiative Manchester–China Forum.

Of the hundreds of thousands of children who took their GCSEs in the city last year, just 118 took Mandarin.

Recent research has suggested that schools were ‘nervous and conservative’ when it comes to introducing a new language and most qualifications tend to be initiated by individual students themselves rather than being suggested by teachers.

Robert Hassard, project manager for Manchester-China Forum, told MM: “It’s important to understand that the economic centre of gravity in the world is heading East and that, by 2019, China is likely to have surpassed the US as the world’s leading economy.

“It’s important to be competitive with London and other large European cities to enhance our activity with China.  

“By having Mandarin speakers and young, talented workers in Manchester who can speak the language we can ensure we do more trade with China.”

A report published by think thank New Economy found that the numbers of schools offering the exam has decreased by 25% from 60 in 2012 to just 45 in 2013.

Some respondents who took part in the study argued that this is due to how languages are presented by the schools, i.e. as an ‘arts’ subject, as opposed to a tool for a business or professional career.

Of those schools who did offer it, in 38 out of 45 of them, just one or two pupils took the language as a GSCE subject.

Manchester Grammar school and Altrincham Grammar are where the most people study Mandarin GSCE – 20 and 18 students respectively.

They were followed by Manchester High School for Girls, who saw eight people sit the exam.

However, the study found that sustaining the language is often not a priority as when it came to taking Mandarin to higher education only 26 pupils took the A-level last year.

Robert said: “It’s often overlooked by educational authorities – some of the older generation think it’s a very complicated language.

 “It is complicated at times but so are all foreign languages.”

A shortage of both native Mandarin speakers with teaching qualifications and a dearth of UK qualified teachers with sufficient skills in the language were felt to be significant reason for the lack of take-up.

Currently, Manchester’s talent pool isn’t large enough to create sustainability as staff sickness or departure is not easily covered.

In addition to this, the study found that many effectively and fail to ensure that visa issues are affecting talent attraction – particularly changes to Tier 5 (temporary work) status.

Delays to visas being granted have pushed back start dates of courses and in some instances postponed teaching all together.

Robert said: “I think there is a visa problem with getting Mandarin speaking teachers over from China but we are currently working at the forum to try and make it easier.

“There’s a supply and demand issue and at the moment there isn’t that demand, but as the importance of the language becomes more widely understood in the UK the demand will increase and with it the needs for the teacher. “

Since it was conceived in March of last year, the Manchester-China Forum is the initiative of its kind in the UK and has led the way in promoting the city and its business interests to Beijing.

They promote direct air links, encourage the use of the language, Mandarin websites and aim to bring investment to Manchester.

Chinese money has already done big things in the city – a ‘hallmark’ of these big deals could be the £800million investment by Beijing Construction Engineering group into Airport City.

Manchester also boasts the second largest Chinatown area of any city in the UK.

“The use of Mandarin as a business tool cannot be underestimated”, Robert said.

“China will be the world’s leading economy by the end of the decade. A lot of business deals and discussions will be taking place in Mandarin, so it really is the biggest business language to learn for English speaking people.“

Image courtesy of Greg Walters with thanks

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