David Cameron has called for more British children to learn Mandarin.
Speaking at the end of a three-day tour of China, the prime minister pledged to double the number of children learning the language to 400,000.
Mr Cameron backed up his pledge with the announcement that the government aims to double the number of Mandarin speaking teaching assistants by 2016. Extra funding will be provided to schools to cover the cost of training the new assistants.
With China set to soon become the world's largest economy, the prime minister said: "It is time to move beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin."
His comments follow calls from other high-profile public figures to increase the number of Mandarin speakers in the UK. In October, London mayor Boris Johnson emphasised the importance of the language and called for its inclusion in the national curriculum.
Research by The British Council has put Mandarin in the top five most important languages for the UK's future prosperity, security and influence. Despite its increasing importance, the language is only spoken to a conversational standard by one per cent of the British population.
According to the Daily Mail, the council is to pay for 50,000 teachers' travel to China in order to boost the number of Mandarin-speaking teachers. In partnership with Hanban (Chinese National Office for Teaching of Chinese as a Foreign Language), it will also provide funding for 60 headteachers to go on study visits to China in 2014.
Foreign languages will form a compulsory part of primary school education following reforms to the national curriculum. The changes, due to be introduced in September 2014, will allow schools to choose which languages they will teach.
The prime minister's comments come after pupils in Shanghai outperformed British pupils in the latest Programme for International Student Assessment world rankings. Chinese students in the city outperformed their British counterparts in reading, science and maths.
Posted by Theo Foulds