Friday 16 February 2018


  • A virtual reality dog is helping primary school children learn basic Mandarin;
  • Developed by the British Council for the Year of the Dog, ‘Dumpling’ the pug responds to voice commands in English and Mandarin;
  • Recent research has recognised Mandarin Chinese as the most important non-European language for the UK post-Brexit.


A virtual reality dog is helping young children get to grips with some basic Mandarin Chinese – the most spoken language in the world.

Launched for the start of the ‘Year of the Dog’, this includes telling the playful pup to ‘eat’, ‘walk’ and – of course like any good dog owner - to ‘sit’. Developed by the British Council for Chinese New Year, ‘Dumpling’ the pug encourages young learners to try out basic words in Mandarin by responding to voice commands via an interactive website. 

The new virtual teaching assistant forms part of a wider schools pack designed to introduce primary school children to the language and culture of China. With recent research highlighting Mandarin Chinese as the most important non-European language for the UK post-Brexit, it is a great way for the youngest of learners to try out some tones from the language. 

In addition, UK parents view Mandarin as being beneficial for their children’s futures. Over half (51 per cent) of those surveyed for the Mandarin Excellence Programme last year said they thought that learning the language would boost their children’s career prospects while 56 per cent saw it as a skill that would open their children’s minds to an ‘exciting and dynamic’ culture.

Vicky Gough Schools Adviser at the British Council, said: “Mandarin Chinese is a fascinating and valuable language than can open our children’s eyes up to the world. More than that, it truly matters to the UK’s future prosperity post-Brexit. 

“We hope that the idea of being helped in their learning by a playful pug will see many more young people giving Mandarin a go this Chinese New Year!”

Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken language in the world, and is seen as important for young people in the UK to master in order for the country to remain globally competitive in the future. 

While drives such as the Department for Education’s Mandarin Excellence Programme are successfully encouraging Mandarin uptake in schools, numbers are low when compared to other more traditional languages. Last year, just over 4,000 students took a GCSE in Chinese compared to around 130,000 students who took French and over 90,000 students who took Spanish. 

The ‘Year of the Dog’ primary schools pack is available to download for free on the British Council’s Schools Online site here: 

The British Council works to improve foreign language skills in the UK as part of its mission to build relationships for the UK around the world through education and culture. It provides Modern Language Assistants to help teach languages in schools across the country, and helps young people in the UK to develop international skills through overseas links and opportunities to work and study abroad.

Notes to Editor

For more information or images, contact Kristen McNicoll in the British Council Press Office by emailing or on 020 7389 4967 / 07765 898 738

The Year of the Dog Primary Teaching Resource has been produced by the British Council to encourage primary schools in the UK to learn more about Chinese language and culture. ‘Dumpling the Dog’ has been developed by Thoughtful with input from the British Council and UCL IOE Confucius Institute for Schools.

About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We work with over 100 countries in the fields of arts and culture, English language, education and civil society. Last year we reached over 65 million people directly and 731 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. We make a positive contribution to the countries we work with – changing lives by creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive 15 per cent core funding grant from the UK government.