Chil­dren make early start on China classes as schools launch lessons


In a bright new class­room on the sec­ond floor of a West Lon­don build­ing, Christie counts to 10 con­fi­dently and then iden­ti­fies parts of the body when prompted by her teacher.

Not bad for a 3-year-old, but Christie is car­ry­ing out the tasks in Man­darin rather than English.

She didn’t speak a word of Chi­nese un­til eight weeks ago, when her par­ents en­rolled her at Kens­ing­ton Wade in Lon­don, the first prep school in the United King­dom to of­fer English and Chi­nese educa­tion to pupils aged 3 to 11.

Jo Wal­lace, the head­mistress, said she hopes her stu­dents will be able to live and work com­fort­ably with Chi­nese peo­ple.

“What we aim to give our stu­dents is not only just a bilin­gual brain but also the abil­ity to speak Chi­nese and un­der­stand Chi­nese cul­ture,” she said.

The school opened in Septem­ber, with 16 pupils, half of whom are from fam­i­lies from the UK, the United States, Rus­sia, South Amer­ica and else­where in Europe. Half of the class com­prises chil­dren with some kind of Chi­nese back­ground.

“The com­mon fac­tor with all these fam­i­lies is that most of them are in­ter­na­tional and have an in­ter­na­tional un­der­stand­ing about China,” Wal­lace said. “Most of them speak two lan­guages and they know the im­por­tance of be­ing bilin­gual and how great it is.”

The school charges fees of 17,000 pounds ($22,435) a year and aims to blend the rigor and ef­fi­ciency of the Chi­nese teach­ing style with the cre­ativ­ity and imag­i­na­tion of the Bri­tish sys­tem. Pupils move be­tween an English and a Man­darin class­room through­out the day.

Kens­ing­ton Wade was the brain­child of Hugo de Burgh, a Chi­nese me­dia spe­cial­ist, who named the school af­ter Sir Thomas Wade, a 19th cen­tury diplo­mat who wrote the first Chi­nese-English text­book, which was pub­lished in the 1860s.

De Burgh 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.”

He said be­ing able to speak the lan­guage will give them an edge be­cause China has be­come in­flu­en­tial.

“China now is the big­gest trad­ing part­ner for 124 coun­tries, while the United States is the big­gest trad­ing part­ner for 58 coun­tries, and par­ents see the grow­ing in­flu­ence of China eco­nom­i­cally and cul­tur­ally,” he said.

Michael Pritch­ett, the fa­ther of 3-yearold Kasper, said be­ing bilin­gual ex­pands the learn­ing ca­pac­ity of the brain and study­ing Man­darin, the most spo­ken lan­guage in the world, could open up all sorts of pos­si­bil­i­ties for fur­ther cul­tural study, sec­ondary school and univer­sity.

Pritch­ett said he was de­lighted when his

A high level of flu­ency in Man­darin will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant.”

Nick Gibb, Min­is­ter of State for School Stan­dards

son started talk­ing to a wait­ress in Chi­na­town in Chi­nese, and he likes to hear his son singing in Chi­nese while play­ing with toys.

“The im­mer­sion thing is ob­vi­ously kept up at home,” he said.

The Pritch­ett fam­ily chose Kens­ing­ton Wade so their son could learn a sec­ond lan­guage but Stephanie Tsang, an­other par­ent, de­cided to send her son Harry to the school be­cause of his Chi­nese roots.

Tsang’s fam­ily just moved back to Lon­don from Bei­jing, and she said that, while China is per­ceived as the fu­ture by many peo­ple, she also wants it to be the present.

“We want to have it as a now thing, be­cause I want him to un­der­stand Chi­nese, and be able to talk to his grandma and grandpa,” she said.

‘Con­fi­dent and ca­pa­ble’

For par­ents who want their chil­dren to learn Man­darin even ear­lier, there is Hatch­ing Dragons, the UK’s first Chi­nese-English nurs­ery school in cen­tral Lon­don. Its founder, Cen­nydd John, set up the nurs­ery be­cause he wanted his son to learn the lan­guage.

John said he hopes to get chil­dren to break down prej­u­dices and un­der­stand that there is much more that joins them than di­vides them. He read mod­ern Chi­nese stud­ies at the Univer­sity of Ed­in­burgh and went on to work as a China con­sul­tant.

“I want to help chil­dren be glob­ally con­fi­dent and ca­pa­ble in a chang­ing world,” he said, “We can­not deny the fact that there are 1.37 bil­lion peo­ple in China who will be glob­ally in­te­grat­ing in some way.”

John’s con­cept seems to be work­ing. This year, he launched a sec­ond nurs­ery, in South­west Lon­don’s Twick­en­ham, two years af­ter the Bar­bican branch opened. He is plan­ning to open a third, in West­min­ster, next year.

The in­ter­est in learn­ing Man­darin in the UK aligns with UK govern­ment pol­icy. In 2015, the govern­ment launched its 10-mil­lion-pound Man­darin Ex­cel­lence Pro­gram, which aims to get 5,000 stu­dents on the way to flu­ency in the lan­guage by 2020.

Nick Gibb, Min­is­ter of State for School Stan­dards, said: “A high level of flu­ency in Man­darin will be­come in­creas­ingly im­por­tant in our glob­ally com­pet­i­tive econ­omy.”

Chil­dren play with tra­di­tional Chi­nese shadow pup­pets at Hatch­ing Dragons. A third nurs­ery is planned for next year in West­min­ster, Lon­don.

Staff help chil­dren with their art­work at Hatch­ing Dragons, the UK’s first Chi­nese-English nurs­ery school.

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