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UK student races to language excellence

By BO LEUNG | China Daily UK | Updated: 2016-11-07 17:51

UK student races to language excellence

Mary Oboh shows her third place trophy at Dartford Grammar School on Friday. [Photo by Bo Leung/China Daily]

Learning Chinese is hard for some, but a 17-year-old English student from Dartford, Kent, picked it up in a hurry.

Mary Oboh had only been studying Mandarin for three years when she clinched third prize in a Chinese proficiency competition in China.

Her school, Dartford Grammar, was chosen to take part in the 9th Chinese Bridge Proficiency Competition for Foreign Secondary School Students last month.

It was organized by Hanban, which is affiliated to China's Ministry of Education.

Oboh's talents do not end at speaking fluent Mandarin, she can also read and write it.

She told China Daily the language was not a struggle.

"I thought it wasn't too difficult because maybe I approach the language as a hobby and I didn't have any pressure whatsoever," she said. "And compared to a language like French, I find Chinese a bit more intuitive and a lot more logical."

Her Chinese language teacher, Jonathan Pope, agreed.

"For some people, Chinese is certainly a very difficult language, but for others like Mary it's actually quite easy," he said. "I found that the character system makes so much more sense than English or French or any European language, which is more random letters all over the place, I just feel Chinese makes sense."

Oboh explained that the competition included a multiple-choice test and a performance on a random topic.

"I wasn't nervous at all on the stage because the other participants in the audience were so supportive and everyone just cheered each other on and there's so much encouragement," she said."I was teaching myself at first because I was bored and I wanted to challenge myself with languages. As I studied Mandarin, I became interested in Chinese culture, history and philosophy and that's what motivated me to learn more about China."

Representing the UK, Oboh, Pope and three other pupils from the school were flown to the event at Yunnan Normal University to compete with students from more than 80 countries. They also got to visit Beijing for cultural activities.

Oboh loves learning new languages and, after finishing her GCSE French early, decided to take on another language, taking up Mandarin lessons in the sixth form at her school, where she is in her final year.

"I've only been learning Chinese for three years and the students who won first and second have been learning for 10 or more years. So it was amazing to be compared to them," she said.

Her prize is a four-year scholarship to any university in China.

"I've applied to go to Oxford to study Chinese and that's my first choice university," she said,"But I'm not ruling out going to school in China in the future."

Her teacher, Pope, said the competition was "a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved".

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