Students made paper lanterns to mark the end of the Chinese Spring Festival at Greasby Infant School. (Image courtesy of the school.)
Two UK primary school teachers explain how teaching Mandarin has benefited students, teachers and parents alike.
Learning as I go
In an interview to teach French at Robin Hood Primary School in Birmingham six years ago, I was asked if I would consider learning Chinese, so I enrolled at my local language centre and, simultaneously, started teaching Mandarin to Year 2 pupils!
At first my knowledge was just two weeks ahead of the children but eventually that gap grew. The Internet, YouTube and a personal learning network of language teachers on Twitter helped to fill gaps in my knowledge, while language shows and conferences also kept me up-to-date with professional development.
From the start, Year 2 loved learning Mandarin. I used a display wall and maintained a languages blog to showcase the children’s work, Chinese items they found in their daily lives, references for them to work on at home and anything fascinating I found out about Chinese or China. All of this ensured that China was never far from their minds.
In 2010 the school appointed a new headteacher, Richard Hunter, who had already forged a strong link with Beijing No. 2 Experimental Primary School. Although I enjoyed learning and teaching Mandarin, I didn’t fully ‘get it’ until we visited our Chinese partner school, addressed all 2,700 pupils and staff, observed lessons across the school’s three campuses and experienced China’s phenomenal culture, food and traditions.
Since then we have had four further teacher excursions to Beijing and have hosted successful visits from our Chinese partners in return. Mandarin lessons are now rolling out across the whole school; class teachers are also learning the language and joining the visits to Beijing. Networking with other schools in the UK that teach Mandarin has been helpful and Hawes Side Primary Academy, Blackpool, now joins our visits to China and teaches Mandarin.
The teacher visits are important for maintaining our link with Beijing No. 2 and for making Chinese culture and language more real for the children. We are giving the children valuable knowledge and understanding of another culture that they may never have had otherwise.
– Simone Haughey, Teacher of Modern Foreign Languages, Robin Hood Primary School
One of the short films in our ‘Snakes and Dragons’ education pack.
Teaching Chinese in the classroom and beyond
We’ve been teaching students at Greasby Infant School about China and Mandarin Chinese for the last five years, and now we are delighted to be extending Mandarin teaching and other China-related activities to all of our pupils and the wider community.
With the support of our local Institute of Education Confucius Classroom, Calday Grange Grammar School, we can provide Mandarin lessons on a weekly basis for every child.
In Chinese lessons, pupils not only learn to speak and write in Mandarin but also study Chinese history, geography, culture, music, art, songs and rhymes. We celebrate Chinese festivals and involve parents and the community through concerts, music festivals and exhibitions.
For the children, the many benefits include improved listening skills, greater awareness of the world and cultures beyond their immediate experiences, and – above all – enhanced self-esteem and a love of languages and learning.
Our latest Ofsted report noted that cultural development is ‘outstanding’ at Greasby, after the inspector witnessed Year 2 celebrating Chinese New Year by singing in Mandarin, making Chinese lanterns and playing Chinese musical instruments.
It is not only in Mandarin that we are making significant developments; we also offer French or German to all pupils, and a specialist modern foreign languages teacher co-ordinates all our international work. We believe that language learning has to begin at the earliest possible age and should be an entitlement for all children, and we are delighted to be making great progress in achieving this.
– Joanne Hall, Headteacher at Greasby Infant School