A recent study revealed that Mandarin is perceived as the most important language for UK students to learn today – beating French, German and Spanish.

The study, which was conducted by the Girls’ School Association (GSA) and represented views of 43 headteachers, found that 38 per cent of heads feel Mandarin is the most important language UK students should be learning in school.

This outweighed the emphasis placed on French, which only 2 per cent of those surveyed felt was most important. Spanish was the second most popular option among the headteachers polled, with 31 per cent naming it the most important.

7.1 per cent chose Russian as the most important, while a further 21 per cent selected ‘other’, commenting that any modern language is good for students.

Speaking about the results, Teresa Tinsley, author of the British Council’s 2019 Language Trends report, said schools needed to consider the practicalities of opting for Mandarin over languages spoken by geographical neighbours, such as French and German.

“If you ask heads what language is going to be useful, that’s one question, but if you ask them which language logistically they can make most progress in, you’ll get a different answer. We don’t have a supply of Mandarin teachers,” she said.

Ms Tinsley went on to say that though she supported the introduction of Mandarin to give students more language variety, there are certain benefits that come with learning European languages such as aiding students’ literacy in English and future employment opportunities, like those in France and Germany.

“They are countries on our doorstep; we will always have a closer relationship with them,” she explained. “If you turned over the education system to Asian languages, you’d be missing out on an awful lot.”

According to head of GSA and language expert Jane Prescott, students have shown faster progress in European languages, though foreign language take-up in the UK is still low.

She said schools were keen for pupils to learn Mandarin for future careers in business, while Spanish remained popular owing to how widely spoken it is around the world.

Mandarin

38%

Spanish

31%

Other

21%

Russian

7%

French

2%

As well as bringing GCSE French and German grading in line with Spanish, which the exams regulator Ofqual has announced it will do, Ms. Prescott also advocates for the teaching of foreign languages from an early age – such as nursery level.

When it comes to preparing children for a global world, the survey showed the most popular option is to “increase opportunities for shared experiences for children from different cultures and countries”, which was chosen by 88 per cent of heads.

True Education Partnerships works to facilitate global relationships between schools in the UK and China through immersive student exchanges. To find out more, visit our Sister School Partnership page.