Most answers to this question fall into one of two camps. Firstly: ‘Of course, China is an emerging superpower, destined to dominate the twenty-first century’. Secondly: ‘Why bother, they all speak English?’ The second tends to be more common, although at Worth School the value of Chinese is starting to be more widely appreciated.
Mrs Siyan Morgan, Worth School’s Chinese teacher, quips, “Would you believe it, most of my students are Chinese. Taking coals to Newcastle comes to mind.”
But more non-Chinese pupils are beginning to tackle the language at Worth and Mrs Morgan is pleased with how they are approaching the challenge.
“All my non-Chinese students are dedicated. It is a hard language to learn and the fact that it is a tonal language doesn’t help. But I have to say they have chosen it themselves and all due credit should be given to them for doing it.”
Mrs Anne Lynch, Worth School’s Deputy Head (Academic), is also supportive, albeit with a caveat: “Personally, I think that learning Chinese is a great idea, but I also think that, as people living in the UK, it’s important to learn a Western language first, so that you can develop some language learning techniques and develop a western cultural awareness, before moving on to other languages. As a linguist myself, it is on my list to learn Mandarin when I eventually retire!”
Last year’s Head Girl Louise Moon took it one step further, going on to read the language at university.
“Chinese is a great language to learn,” she said. “Not only to benefit you in terms of employment and future business, as China is emerging as a superpower, but also so you can speak to a billion more people in the world! China fascinates me and although it is hard, there is no disadvantage to learning it!”
However, despite China’s meteoric rise during the last few decades, problems remain. Experts such as historian Niall Ferguson predict the future dominance of the People’s Republic. But it is clear that cracks are appearing in the previously well-oiled Communist Party state machine. Brutal crackdowns against minorities in Tibet and Xinjiang within the last few years, as well as impact of the dire global financial situation have caused difficulties. Meanwhile, the bizarre case of the dead British businessman, Neil Heywood, and his links to the disgraced Politburo chief, Bo Xilai, has exposed divisions within the Party itself. It may be that China’s (red!) star could fall, as has Japan’s. This does not take account of a crucial difference; Japan only seeks prosperity whereas China wants global influence.
So, while Chinese may be difficult, and learning it can be a long march, it is more useful now than ever and hopefully will continue to grow as a subject at Worth School. As Mrs Morgan says of her pupils, “I don’t think they’ll ever regret it.”
This article was first published in Worth school magazine Insight.