China Not Mad for Mandarin
With Mandarin ranking as the most important language for world business after English, stories of American parents enrolling their children in bilingual schools or even uprooting their families from California to Chengdu flood the internet. However, if Mandarin Chinese is to challenge English globally then it may first need to conquer China.
The news from Beijing that 400 million Chinese cannot speak Mandarin has recently made headlines worldwide. The number is staggering; 400 million is almost the equivalent of the entire populations of the United States and Mexico combined, and this is still a conservative estimate. There will be more non-Mandarin speaking mouths which remain uncounted in rural areas and in the illegal immigrant population.
Also, not all those counted as speaking Mandarin are fluent as the survey defines “ability to speak” as an error rate lower than 40% in the Putonghua Evaluation Exam (普通话水平测试). In fact, Xinhua news agency quoted Ministry of Education spokesperson Xu Mei as saying that many of 70% who can speak Mandarin do so “poorly”.