LEEDS University Business School is helping children at local schools to learn Mandarin as part of a strategy to increase the region’s economic ties with China.
Professor Peter Moizer, the dean of the business school, said he wanted to raise awareness of Chinese culture around Yorkshire to help improve trade connections between the region and China.
He believes that improved cultural ties between China and Yorkshire could lead to inward investment.
He told The Yorkshire Post: “We put on events and speakers to try and raise the profile of China in Leeds, but also to act as a source of advice and help for businesses who want to work in China. And equally, we want to be a source of information in China for people wanting to come to Leeds for inward investment. That’s the corporate side.”
“We have volunteers who come across from China who can help teach English students how to improve their Mandarin skills, or even pick up Mandarin skills for the first time.”
He said that thanks to the business school’s ties with China, Mandarin is being taught by volunteers at a number of schools in Yorkshire.
He added: “The idea is to generate knowledge of the culture but also to give them examples of the language.
“Why wouldn’t you want to know about the Chinese? It’s a massive market, and we do a lot of business with China, there’s a lot of inward investment from China.
“But it’s a challenging thing, because the big difference between China and a European language is you can read a European language, and work out what it’s supposed to sound like.
“You can’t look at a Chinese character and tell what it sounds like, because they are pictorial.”
Mr Moizer added: “The big challenge for a western person, who is used to looking at words and making sense of them sound-wise, is to look at the picture which represents something, and remember it, and then learn what it sounds like.
“It doesn’t sound like it looks - that’s a mind-blowing concept for Western people.
“Learning Chinese is not straightforward. It requires you to make that leap.”
He said that Leeds University Business School already participated in celebrations to mark the Chinese New Year.
Last year, joint celebrations were staged in Leeds and Beijing in honour of William Shakespeare and the Ming Dynasty playwright Tang Xianzu to mark the 400th anniversary of their deaths.
The global collaboration, William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu: Celebrating a 400 Year Legacy, saw students in Beijing and Leeds work around the common theme of dreams, for back-to-back performances of their contemporary interpretations of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Tang’s Nanke-ji (The Story of Nanke, also known as The Dream Under the Southern Bough). The event in Leeds attracted the Chinese Ambassador to the UK, Liu Xiaoming.
Mr Moizer added: “It was a huge source of general interest from China about what Leeds could do.”