“China will be the dominant power in the 21st century and the employment opportunities that speaking Mandarin will give are immense.” Thus Anthony Seldon, headmaster of Wellington College, at a conference in 2006 entitled “Why every school should offer Mandarin”. Nearly two years later, the spectacular growth of the language in British schools shows no sign of slowing. More than 400 secondary schools now teach it, according to the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust, which is lobbying to bring Mandarin into the national curriculum. And Britain is not alone in its enthusiasm for the language: some 30m foreigners are studying Mandarin today, and Chinese authorities expect the number to rise to 100m by 2010.
In a few decades China may indeed overtake America as the world’s top economic power. Will Britons who make the effort to learn its language be rewarded with better careers? Barring some kind of sea change in global language learning, the answer will almost always be no. [Full Text]