Ni hao ma? Children as young as five set the pace with a love for Mandarin

Numbers learning the language are set to swell in the new year

Education Editor

Children as young as five are already learning Mandarin in British schools, as David Cameron pushes for it to replace French and German in classrooms across the country.

Pupils at RJ Mitchell Primary in Elm Park, Havering, north London, are among the first of their age group to have the lessons. The numbers learning Mandarin are set to swell in the new year as other schools react to the Prime Minister’s exhortation this month to make it the main modern foreign language in schools.

Children in the first two years at the 217-pupil primary school started learning the language last September, well before Mr Cameron’s words. Headmaster Barry Read said:  “I’ve always been concerned at the lack of languages in the UK. I think our country is so insular I do despair about it.” He said he would like to see Mandarin lessons delivered throughout the school.

The children start by learning Chinese words using English characters. They greet each other with “Ni hao ma?” (how are you?) and “Wo hen hao” (I am well). They address their teachers – Ruthie Davies and Stephanie Driscoll, both of whom are learning the language alongside their pupils – as “laoshi” (teacher).

Later in the lesson they are introduced to Chinese characters. “It feels like art work,” said Ms Driscoll. The pupils also act out words Kung-Fu style to make learning fun – and can access games on the resource via computers at home.

For six-year-old Mason Taylor, this allows him to teach Mandarin to his brother, Regan, who, at nine, is too old to have taken the lessons. “It’s good to be learning other languages,” said Mason. “I like drawing the characters.”

His mother, Mandy, who is a dinner lady at the school, said: “He loves it. He’s teaching me at home on the computer. They pick it up so easily when they’re that young.” 

The Government’s attempts to promote Mandarin have led it to include the language as one of those approved for teaching when languages become compulsory for all children over the age of seven next September.  The difficulty will come when pupils switch to secondary schools. At present, there is not the teaching capacity to build on the initiative.

Speaking in China earlier this month, Mr Cameron said: “It’s time to look beyond the traditional focus on French and German and get many more children learning Mandarin.”

Marcus Reoch, co-author of the Dragons in Europe resource used at RJ Mitchell primary, said: “China is now a dominant force in the global economy and is investing in and also acquiring significant UK businesses. Schools are recognising the need to equip their next generation with the skills to prosper in the global economy, and interest in Mandarin Chinese is high.”

RJ Mitchell’s initiative will be followed by the opening of the country’s first bilingual English/Mandarin state primary school – the Marco Polo Academy in Barnet, north London. The school, one of Education Secretary Michael Gove’s free schools, will open in September.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
News
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Life and Style
Mark's crab tarts are just the right size
food + drinkMark Hix cooks up some snacks that pack a punch
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Education

Recruitment Genius: MIS Officer - Further Education Sector

£20000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Operating throughout London and...

The Jenrick Group: Maintenance Planner

£28000 - £32000 per annum + pension + holidays: The Jenrick Group: Maintenance...

The Jenrick Group: Project Manager

£35000 per annum + Pension+Bupa: The Jenrick Group: We are recruiting for an e...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE £35K - £45K: SThree: SThree Group have been we...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all