World / Europe

UK students get chance to learn the Chinese way

By Wang Mingjie (China Daily UK) Updated: 2016-09-12 18:00

The first prep school in the UK to teach its pupils predominantly in Mandarin is set to open in West London in 2017.

Children aged three to 13 will receive tuition in Mandarin in all of their lessons, followed by repeated lessons in English, to "reinforce what they have learned in both languages".

The "immersive" bilingual school, Kensington Wade, says it aims to prepare its pupils for the very best secondary schools, instilling in them a drive for academic excellence balanced with a high cultural empathy.

It will blend the rigor and efficiency of the Chinese teaching style with the creativity and imagination of the English teaching system.

The school, which charges fees of £15,000 a year, will initially accommodate up to 200 pupils but plans to grow its capacity in the following six or seven years to cater to around 500 students.

The school hopes to draw pupils from British families as well as the offspring of international professionals who are working and living in the UK, including Chinese expatriates.

Hugo de Burgh, the school’s co-founder and a Chinese expert at the University of Westminster, said: "The desire to open a school of this kind has been founded on the belief that future generations of British opinion formers and decision makers will benefit greatly from learning Chinese at an early age."

This will give them an edge as China continues to have a strong influence on business, politics and international affairs, he added.

In addition to the full range of subjects that are required to be taught in all British schools, the prep school in Kensington will immerse children in Chinese culture - including martial arts as part of the sports program, calligraphy as part of the arts program and adopt the Shanghai style ‘maths mastery’ approach.

With increasingly close ties between China and the UK, learning Mandarin has become very popular in the UK.

In 2014, former Prime Minister David Cameron, announced during a visit to China the UK's ambition to double the number of people learning Chinese languages in the UK from 200,000 to 400,000 by 2020.

Cameron anticipated that, by 2019, the number of children of primary school age learning Mandarin would rise from around 30,000 to more than 130,000.

Experts say that, despite the fact that Mandarin has grown in popularity among British school children, it is still seen as a relatively difficult language to master for non-native speakers.

"Children will need to learn four different tones for each syllable, which could have a completely different meaning," said Zhou Fang, Chinese co-director of the Confucius Institute at the University of Southampton.

Also, Mandarin is famous for its large number of written characters.

Fang said: "Based on the standards of HSK, the Chinese Proficiency Test, it requires an average student to know 800 vocabularies to be able to converse in a day-to-day simple conversation, while 5,000 characters are needed to read a newspaper."

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