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BBC TV teaches children yi, er, san

By Cheng Yingqi in Beijing and Zhang Chunyan in London | China Daily | Updated: 2012-03-22 10:54

A new TV cartoon show in Britain is teaching toddlers how to speak Mandarin - a sign, experts say, of the language's growing popularity around the world.

The Lingo Show is broadcast weekdays on the BBC's CBeebies channel, whose target audience is children under 6 years old, and aims to introduce Chinese, French and Spanish words to young viewers through a range of colorful characters.

Since making its debut this month, the show is already proving a hit, with its companion games website reportedly attracting 238,000 visitors in the first week, or a quarter of all CBeebies visitors that week.

Episodes so far have featured a bug called Wei, who introduced familiar objects in Mandarin. Wearing roller- skates and a crash helmet, Wei teaches children the basics of Chinese, such as numbers up to 10 and colors, through games and songs.

Later episodes follow the adventures of French bug Jargonaise and Spanish bug Queso.

"Frankly, learning Chinese is more difficult than learning other languages, such as French," said Roland Michael, from London, who watches The Lingo Show with his 6-year-old daughter. "English, French, Spanish are all rooted in Europe ... so they are easy. I think kids can grasp Chinese easily through the cartoon. It's a good idea."

The show is the latest proof of the rising popularity of Chinese, said Chen Tongdu, the UK representative for the Confucius Institute.

According to the institute's Beijing headquarters, 5,200 schools in the United Kingdom now offer classes in Mandarin.

"They (British people) see great opportunities in learning Chinese," Liu Xiaoming, Chinese ambassador to the UK, said recently.

"As China grows, the UK and other countries will need to engage more with China. Naturally, the demand for Chinese speakers will grow."

Kathy Chen, who lives in London with her British husband and 3-year-old son, said she is working hard to make sure her child can speak Mandarin.

"In the future, being able to speak Chinese will be an advantage for him and give him more opportunities in the UK," she said.

The Confucius Institute says its classes on Chinese language and culture are available in 105 countries and regions, covering 86 percent of the world's population, and more than 160 universities in 62 countries have shown "strong interest" in starting Mandarin classes with the institute's help.

On March 15, Serbia's Education and Science Minister Zarko Obradovic and the Chinese Ambassador to Serbia Zhang Wanxue signed a memorandum of cooperation on a new project to start Chinese classes in Serbian elementary and high schools, covering 2,462 pupils.

In July, Swedish officials also announced that all primary schools will offer classes in Mandarin within 10 years, and in September, the Pakistani education authority revealed plans to make Mandarin compulsory in schools for children ages 10 and above.

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