Children as young as six learning Mandarin at Highgate primary school

A primary school is immersing its young pupils in Chinese culture and language in the hope that many will become fluent in the most widely spoken language in the world.

Children as young as six at Highgate Primary School, Storey Road, Highgate, are learning Mandarin, the official language of the People’s Republic of China, as well as Chinese cultural studies.

The subjects were brought in at the beginning of the academic term in September because of “the increasing importance of Mandarin in the world in which we live”.

Headteacher William Dean has not brought in the subjects half-heartedly, ensuring that his pupils are involved in the language and culture in almost every lesson.

“In 2014, it will be a requirement to teach a modern foreign language, which is something local schools have paid lip service to and we have as well,” he said.

“We tried with French and I think it turned out quite unsuccessfully. In order for children to learn a language, it can’t just be taught once a week.”

As well as twice-weekly lessons in Mandarin and Chinese cultural studies, the teachers will incorporate the subjects into their other lessons by getting the children to say “zhèli” for the register or by teaching them about Marco Polo and the Silk Road to China.

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Mr Dean and the teachers are also learning Mandarin so they can use easy-to-understand phrases during lessons, though he says it is “much harder for me than it is for the children”.

He hopes that some of his six-year-old pupils will go on to study Mandarin at secondary school and become fluent by the time they leave.

“A lot of our children go on to schools which already teach Mandarin, such as Alexandra Park School and Fortismere School,” Mr Dean added.

“It is about immersing the children in the culture and in the language.

“Right at the heart of our aims is that we want children to love learning and teaching Mandarin really encourages children to think in different ways. It is exciting.”

Introducing the subjects into the school has been a year in the making, and was sparked by a successful Mandarin after-school club, which has been running for several years.

The school, which is non-uniform and encourages children to address teachers by their first names, officially launched the new subjects yesterday, with a Chinese banquet, Tai Chi performances, and a visit from members of the London Confucius Institute, an organisation that helps schools to teach the subject.