The Human Element: Why is there No Canadian Strategy on Mandarin?

Author: Joanna Wong

Why is there no national Canadian strategy for learning Mandarin, the language of the world’s fastest growing economy?

Whether Canadians want to thrive at a business banquet in Shanghai or simply make friends with the 26,000 new Chinese immigrants arriving in Canada each year, some familiarity with Mandarin just makes sense.

But while 300 million Chinese are sweating it out learning English, Canada has yet to take national action to educate new Chinese speakers.

At home, decisions about Mandarin immersion programs are left to the whims and budgets of local school boards. We also lack a unified vision for Canadian study abroad.

Meanwhile, our American neighbors recently launched the “100K Strong” initiative, designed to dramatically increase the number and diversity of students studying in China.

Boldness pays: 100K Strong will send 100,000 young Americans to China over the next five years – 10,000 of whom will be fully funded by Chinese government scholarships, and thousands more by the private sector.

Even if more exchange scholarships are considered too pricey, there are plenty of creative, cost-effective opportunities to learn the world’s most spoken language.

Over 1.3 million ethnically Chinese people live in Canada, offering limitless opportunity for homegrown language learning programs.

And with nearly 1 in 3 Chinese surfing the internet, smart use of technology could inspire a whole array of Canadian-Chinese language-learning collaborations.

In fact, the world’s most successful Mandarin learning website, ChinesePod, was started by a Canadian, Hank Horkoff.

Horkoff’s Chinese Pod reaches an impressive global audience of 1 million people with lessons in practical, everyday Mandarin – including how to suck up to your boss.

Let’s think a generation ahead. China is expected to become the world’s largest economy by 2016. It’s up to us to ensure that we can negotiate our economic future in Chinese.

This video can also be viewed on youku.

This blog is the second of four I will be posting on the “Human Element,” a video series that uncovers a new era of innovation shaping Canada’s ties with China. This series was produced by Flow Creative Studios as part of an Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada Media Fellowship. The first blog in the series can be viewed here.

The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of the Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada.

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