Mandarin, also known as Pǔ tōnghuà (普通话 , the common tongue), is spoken by more than 70% of the massive Chinese population and the People's Republic of China wants that figure to be closer to 80% by the year 2020. That means close to a billion people in China already speak Mandarin.
This of course does not count the massive diaspora who comprise what eminent Australian Sinologist Professor Geremie Barmé has described as the Sinophonic world. Even those who speak one of the many other Chinese languages can still communicate to speakers of other dialects via the written text.
And yet in 2016, in this the so-called Asian Century, only 130 students from a non-Chinese background studied Mandarin for the New South Wales, Australia, Higher School Certificate. (This was 98 students at the Chinese Continuers 2 Unit level and 32 students at the Chinese Beginners 2 Unit Level).
This was a rise of just 1 student since the year before, when there were 129 students (102 at Beginners and 27 at Continuers). Xavier Eales, part of the Sino-Immersions' team, wrote about this phenomenon in the following newspaper article.
By contrast, there were a total of 1395 students studying French at either the Beginners or Continuous level in 2016. Interestingly - for all that comparisons are very difficult for many reasons (see the results tables here) - over 80% of the students who studied Chinese Continuers received either Band 6 or Band 5 compared to only just over 65% of those students studying French Continuers.
This last figure, which should not be seen in isolation, nevertheless shows that the commonly held argument that "it is not possible, or very difficult to achieve good HSC marks in Mandarin" is simply not the case. Furthermore, most of the students who carry through with HSC Mandarin realise that if strict utility is the only reason for education (a view Sino-Immersions strongly opposes) then the student who achieves a lower band or ATAR in their HSC but has nevertheless studied Mandarin at HSC level (be this Beginners or Continuous) will still be greatly prized in the academic and corporate world, especially by the close to a billion Chinese who also speak Mandarin!
Ella Clarke, one of Sino-Immersions expert team, has written of her experiences studying Mandarin in our blog, here. Ella did not study Mandarin at her high school but continued studying through Open High School, showing that nothing can stop a determined student. Ella makes the point that one of the challenges faced by the student of Mandarin (and other character-based languages) is the sheer amount of time that needs to be spent to gain proficiency, compared to Romance languages for instance.
Consequently, even the best school and the most active and conscientious teacher will simply not be able to spend as much one-on-one time with the student as is necessary to reach the standards our best students wish to achieve.
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