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David Cameron, who has notoriously poor schoolboy French, is urging today's youngsters to abandon the language of Molière and Voltaire to concentrate on the tongue of the future – Mandarin.|
In a parting shot, as he left China after a three-day visit, the prime minister said that pupils should look beyond the traditional French and German lessons and instead focus on China.
To reinforce his message the prime minister quoted Nelson Mandela, who said learning someone else's language is the best way to their heart. Cameron said: "I want Britain linked up to the world's fast-growing economies. And that includes our young people learning the languages to seal tomorrow's business deals.
"By the time the children born today leave school, China is set to be the world's largest economy. So it's time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin.
Cameron, who visited a school for six- and seven-year-olds learning English in Chengdu, said that a partnership between the British Council and Hanban – the Chinese National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language – will double the number of Chinese language assistants in the UK by 2016 and provide increased funding to lower the cost to schools of offering Mandarin as a language option.
The announcement was welcomed by the British Council and the British Academy, both of which have been pushing for policies to reverse the decline in students taking modern languages at school and university level.
Martin Davidson, the British Council's chief executive who has been visiting China with Cameron, said: "The promotion of Chinese language in the UK and the English language in China are both vital to economic and cultural relations between the two countries. This initiative will increase collaboration and is particularly significant given that recent British Council research shows that Mandarin is one of 10 languages not widely spoken in the UK and yet crucial to our future growth and prosperity."