According to this report, the UK Schools Secretary, Ed Balls, would like all secondary pupils in UK schools to have the opportunity to learn Mandarin. One reason for this is that a poll of employers found that Chinese is the most useful language for employees to know after French and German.
The poll, conducted by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) in 2008, found that 52% of employers wanted French speakers, 43% wanted German speakers, 38% wanted speakers of Mandarin or Cantonese, and 28% wanted Spanish speakers.
The UK government would also like there to be a greater range of languages offered in primary schools, including Mandarin, Arabic and Japanese.
Critics of these plans point out that the government should be worry about the ever decreasing number of pupils are studying any languages at secondary level, and that there aren’t enough teachers of Mandarin and other languages.
There’s an comment piece on this story in the Telegraph in which the writer claims that schools should concentrate on improving the English of pupils, rather than trying to teach them ‘difficult’ languages like Chinese. This is a common argument when languages are mentioned – many believe that today’s youth have poor English, especially written English, and don’t know their grammar, and therefore shouldn’t waste time learning foreign languages. Such opinions are often based on impressions, prejudices and are rarely backed up with evidence.
Are such arguments used in other countries?