Mandarin is an infamously difficult language to learn; so difficult in fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese citizens don’t know how to speak it.
The Chinese government is looking to change that, setting the target that 80% of its citizens will speak the country’s official language by 2020. Currently, only 70% of China’s population can speak Mandarin. That percentage is even lower in the countryside where local dialects are the preferred mode of communication for many. A Xinhua report estimates that in some places only 40% of people can speak Mandarin.
To aid in this effort, China’s Ministry of Education and State Language Commision is looking to improve the Mandarin speaking skills of the country’s educators, mandating that all teachers pass a standard Mandarin speaking test before starting work, particularly those who teach in ethnic minority regions.
China has been pushing Mandarin on its ethnically diverse citizens for some time now. Back in 2014, the State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television ordered all TV news anchors to speak Mandarin, avoiding Chinese dialects and all foreign languages.
But its citizens have also pushed back in the past. In 2014, Cantonese speakers raised an uproar over government plans to quietly switch programming from their native language to Mandarin. Four years earlier, Tibetans took to the street over a regulation that would make all elementary school textbooks and lessons in Mandarin. And over the past few years, an influx of Mandarin teachers in Xinjiang has helped to increase tensions in the region with local Uighurs worried that Beijing wants to wipe out their language and culture.
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