Must-Have For Ambitious Parents: A Nanny Who Is Fluent In Mandarin

Must-have for ambitious parents: a nanny who is fluent in Mandarin

Rosemary Bennett, Social Affairs Correspondent
From The Times
April 10, 2007

If you needed any more proof that China is the country of the future, look no further than the local nanny agency.

Mandarin-speaking nannies have become the latest must-have for parents determined to give their children the ultimate head start. Agencies and web-sites specialising in childcare say that they are swamped with requests for Chinese nannies, with parents happy to pay up to 15 an hour 50 per cent more than the usual rate.

Vanessa Cook, the managing director of the Little Ones nanny agency in London, which specialises in bilingual nannies, says that she can barely keep up with demand.

In the past year the growth in requests for Mandarin speakers has been dramatic. I would say of all the calls we get each month about 10 per cent are looking for a Mandarin speaker. Its the fourth-most-popular language among parents now after French, Spanish and Russian, she said.

The clients are mostly high-powered business people with very young children who believe you have to start learning language young to have any chance. They see Mandarin as the future business language, its as simple as that, and want their children to have a head start.

Frances Mackay, an academic based in Perthshire, is a typical client. She was determined that her four children would not have their lives blighted by the feeble foreign language skills acquired by most Britons.

British people only speak English, whereas in most other countries people routinely speak two or three languages. We are the odd ones out. I want to give my children a better future and enable them to go and live and work in China, for their own good and also for the good of the country, she said.

But a severe shortage of experienced, qualified Chinese nannies has hampered the growth of this potentially huge market.

It is virtually impossible for young Chinese to get a visa allowing them to work in Britain in childcare, still considered a low skill sector.

Matters have not been helped by EU expansion, which means that Britain is now awash with nannies from Eastern Europe. Officials in charge of the points-based immigration system no longer see childcare as an area with a skills shortage. There are few recog-nisable childcare qualifications in China, and British parents typically expect their nannies to be trained for the job. Although demand for nannies within China is rising as personal wealth grows, caring for a child is still considered natural, with little need for formal training.

So for the small number of Chinese nannies in Britain, it means a very well-paid job indeed. Ms Cook said that an experienced one can easily command 12 to 15 an hour net, compared with the London average of 9.50 an hour. (By tradition, employers pay a nannys tax and national insurance.)

Mrs Mackay searched Britain for a Mandarin-speaking au pair. There is no au pair relationship with China and so I had to give up on that. But after hunting for two or three months we eventually tracked down a teacher on the internet. Yiwen comes in three times a week and talks to the children, playing with the younger ones and teaching the older ones in a slightly more formal way.

Edith Li Ross, a Chinese American living in North London, has struggled for years to find Mandarin-speaking nannies so that she can raise her two children to be bilingual.

We have managed to find three. The first was a nursing student who had to take a year off while she changed university. When she went back to China, she introduced us to another nurse, although she was not able to work all the hours we wanted because of her studies.

However, when she left we got a bit stuck. In the end I placed an ad in a Chinese newspaper published here for a bao mu [carer]. That was a hair-raising experience. We got dozens of calls but really had no idea who was applying, and they had no idea about us. Eventually we found a nice Malaysian nanny who speaks Mandarin, but Im not sure about her accent.

Ms Cook, from Little Ones, has also struggled. We only take on nannies with three years experience of looking after children, and who speak fluent English. Our most successful route is Chinese teachers because they have the experience of working with children as well as good languages, she said.

However, a new supply of nannies will soon be on the way. From May 1 all overseas students can work for one year in Britain after they graduate from a recognised course.

And there is no shortage of Chinese studying in Britain. They make up the largest group of overseas students with 50,755 currently studying here.


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They want him to get a head start