Hundreds of secondary schools are now set to start teaching Mandarin to pupils, as part of the new £10 million Mandarin excellence programme that has been launched.
Intensive lessons have begun as students return to school this week, which will include eight hours of teaching each week for the next four years.
The first wave will see 15 schools beginning the programme, with more to commence over the year. The intention is that by 2020, at least 5,000 young people will be on track towards fluency in Mandarin.
School standards minister Nick Gibb said: "As part of our drive to extend opportunity, we want to give young people the opportunity to study the language and to acquire fluency in both spoken and written Mandarin."
Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, and fluency in the language will give young people more opportunities when it comes to career options. In addition, the Department for Education (DfE) says the move will allow the UK to remain "globally competitive in the future".
Schools are leading the programme, with support from the University College London’s Institute of Education in partnership with the British Council.
Katharine Carruthers, director of the UCL Institute Of Education Confucius Institute, said: "This programme provides a real boost and unique opportunity for more motivated pupils to be on track towards fluency in Mandarin. We are also developing new innovative teaching methods which will benefit the young people on the programme as well as the wider cohort of pupils learning Mandarin Chinese in our schools."
She went on to add that the commencement of the programme will likely "further the UK’s relationship with China at all levels".