Mandarin learning in British classrooms is enhancing the ability of students to perform well in other subjects, including English and mathematics, according to a new survey released on Friday.
The report shows 89 percent of students studying Mandarin at schools taking part in the survey achieved GCSE Grade 5 or better in English. In comparison, among students at the same schools who were not learning Mandarin, only 72 percent earned GCSE Grade 5 or better in English.
Similarly, 87 percent of students learning Mandarin achieved GCSE Grade 5 or above in mathematics, while only 61 percent made the grade among students not studying Mandarin.
GCSEs are taken by students aged 14 to 16. They comprise 9 grades, with grade 5 being described as a “strong pass”.
Although education experts conducting the research do not have an explanation for the results, it is possible students learning Mandarin develop better language learning skills, better memories, and better multitasking skills.
The survey results were released at the United Kingdom’s 15th Annual Chinese Teaching Conference, which was held on Friday and Saturday at the Institute of Education within University College London. Hundreds of Mandarin teachers from throughout the UK attended the event.
Xia Jianhui, education counselor at China’s embassy in the UK, said in his keynote speech that the learning of Mandarin is important in “decoding” cultural differences.
“In our increasingly connected world, communication and understanding are especially important,” Xia said. “The world needs to cultivate the next generation of globally minded talents, and language learning is fundamental to their education.”
Katharine Carruthers, director of the UCL Institute of Education Confucius Institute, said the British government places significant emphasis on Mandarin learning and noted that it has become even more important in recent years as China-UK bilateral collaboration has accelerated.
The UK government’s commitment was made clear in 2016 when it launched the Department for Education’s Mandarin Excellence Program, which aims to get at least 5,000 pupils on track to fluency in Mandarin by 2020.
Students who sign up to the program need to dedicate at least four hours a week to learning Mandarin.
The program started with 14 pilot schools across the UK, a number that has now grown to 37. The student population taking part now numbers 1,400 students. Starting from the new academic year in September, the number of schools that are involved is set to grow to 60.
The survey, which found Mandarin enhances students’ skills in other subjects, collected data from the original 14 pilot schools.
Other key topics discussed during the conference included methods of motivating students to learn Mandarin, the benefits of a Chinese-English bilingual education, and ways of using technology to create an immersive Mandarin learning environment.