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In Conversation with Chopsticks: The True Value of Learning Chinese Mandarin 🇨🇳 🥢 🇬🇧

Olea: Hello! It’s wonderful to share with the world everything the Chopsticks Club (London, UK) has to offer! Could you tell us what the Chopsticks Club does, and what inspired you to start this brilliant initiative back in 1993?


Chopsticks Club will be celebrating its 30th anniversary this year. What started as a group of Durham University Mandarin alumni, in 1993, who simply wanted to stay in touch in an era before emails and websites, soon developed into a platform to service the needs of professionals from both the UK and China. These were people who wanted to network, do business and, most importantly, make friends.


We want to ensure that 50% of our members are from the UK and 50% are from mainland China. For 30 years we have been running thought-provoking dinner speaker events, Mandarin classes for our non-Chinese members and Chinese Calligraphy classes for all. We even have our own choir, Mandarin Voices, who sing exclusively in Mandarin. In the past, we have pioneered the first China Careers Fair and are recognised by both the UK & Chinese Governments for our work.


Olea: So looking to the next generation and passing on your UK-China legacy, how do you engage British kids with Chinese culture so far away from the mainland itself? Why can’t they experience this elsewhere in the UK?


In 2018 we set up our educational charity arm, Engage with China. The charity’s aim is to build China literacy in UK schools - developing curiosity, and global awareness about China and its impact on young people. We recognised that UK school children were disadvantaged in the global workplace compared to their Chinese peers who know far more about Western culture and the UK.


And yet, the UK school curriculum barely touches on China. The programme is delivered face-to-face in schools through our interactive China Challenge Days. We also run pioneering international Model UN events, online with schools predominantly in China and the UK, where the resolutions are those discussed at the latest Climate Change Conference (COP27) and where no school can represent their own country, thereby building global awareness of different perspectives on the most pressing challenges facing our planet’s future.

Olea: Back to Chinese Mandarin as a language, what would you say to a young British (or even American / German etc.) teen, for example, who is growing up in a totally monolingual household, who is intrigued by China, but doesn’t know where to start?


Having been in schools where Mandarin is taught, we have witnessed how empowered pupils feel speaking a non-European language with an entirely different script. We have witnessed how the barriers to language learning and Mandarin tones don’t exist when we teach short Mandarin modules in primary schools and we see how our Engage with China programme complements Mandarin learning by placing China in context.

Mandarin is not as hard as many believe. There are no tenses, no masculine or feminine and far less grammar than in European languages.

I have met professionals who never considered themselves linguists at school, but who have loved learning a new language where the script is often based on a concept or idea, or perhaps pictorial rather than a sound. The UK lacks China competency, both knowledge of the country and the language, so a bright future awaits those who choose to select Mandarin and immerse themselves.


Olea: Great! What initiatives do you have in the pipeline for 2023 (and even beyond)?


We are hoping to run more exchange programmes between UK and Chinese schools as well as run our international Model UN event in China in 2025. Getting Chinese students to come to the UK seems easier than in reverse due to a lack of funds to pay to take the UK schools to China.


The summer camps we are planning for Chinese students in 2023 will also involve UK Mandarin learners, as the summer camp curriculum will include joint activities with English Mandarin language learners. This will take the form of sports or drama, along with joint cultural activities.


Olea: The summer camps sound amazing and a great opportunity for UK students to immerse themselves in a Chinese language environment. Thank you, Chopsticks, for your contribution to The Olea! For more information about the Chopsticks Club, and Engage with China, please visit: http://www.chopsticksclub.com/content/engage-china and www.engagewithchina.org


关于我们公司 Chopsticks


我们是独特的,创新的中国和英国的商业中心和会员网络。我们提供商业,文化和教育的机会,网络和对话的一个值得信赖和独特的平台。我们的目标是改善人际关系,知识两国和参与。俱乐部由四千多名在中国和英国工作的精英组成,其中百分之五十来自中国大陆,而整个俱乐部有百分之九十五的会员能说中文。本俱乐部于1993年由Rupert Hoogewerf 发起建立,他是胡润百富杂志的总裁并发起了中国百富榜,我们的会员遍布各行各业,“关系”非常深广。


Engage With China


Engage with China (EwC) is an educational charity, founded in 2018, which aims to build a ‘China-literate’ generation in UK schools, by developing a competitive edge, relevant 21st-century skills, global awareness and curiosity through the case study of China. By enlightening pupils about China’s history, geography, language, society, innovation and culture, EwC fills a crucial knowledge gap in the curriculum. It also benefits young people as they develop key skills and knowledge to become better cross-cultural collaborators of the future, equipped for the global jobs market or to negotiate on global sustainable development goals, such as climate change.


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Olea Education Ltd.

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