Mandarin in India

The overwhelming response of CBSE-affiliated schools to the proposal to teach Mandarin to students shows the changes taking place in the education sector and also the change in attitudes as a result of the rise of China on the world’s stage. There are about 12,000 such schools and a large number of them have shown keen interest in introducing the language for their students from the earliest level. Courses are expected to start from the next academic year. The proposal was first made when Human Resources Development minister Kapil Sibal visited China earlier this year and was mentioned in the joint statement issued after Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao’s recent visit to the country.

Indians are by nature great learners of languages. The multiplicity of languages in the country and the three-language scheme have meant that many people are polyglots.
There have been historical reasons too. Persian, Arabic and even Turkic have been popular in the country and are part of the country’s intellectual and cultural heritage.

Apart from English whose place is unique, modern languages like French and Spanish are also being widely taught and studied in the country. But Mandarin has not been popular because its utility was limited and the language is thought to be very difficult to learn. It is now taught only in a few centres at the university level. The importance of a language depends also on the place where it is spoken and the people who speak it. With China emerging as a world power and as it will remain so in the foreseeable future, knowledge of Mandarin will become necessary and will be of practical use. It will also help to improve political, economic and cultural relations with China. The Chinese have also been keen in the recent past to encourage study of their language and culture in other countries.

China has offered all help and support for India’s Mandarin plan. But it will be difficult to launch the programme on a wide scale because the number of trained teaching personnel is not large. But going by the interest seen in the programme, it  will gain strength and popularity in the coming years. Mandarin is not just a politically important language. It has a long and rich heritage and its study will help to understand China better.

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