Mandarin lessons from the age of five at Sheffield school

A PRIMARY school believes Mandarin is the language children need to learn to get on in life and is teaching it to pupils from the age of five.

Hatfield Academy student Sana Ahmadi speaks Mandarin with Chinese delegation member Li Li. Picture: Andrew Roe

Hatfield Academy, in Sheffield, was visited by a delegation of Chinese dignitaries today to showcase the work they are doing.

Head teacher Charlie Blencowe said: “China is already a huge economic driver in the world today and there is no doubt this will grow even more in years to come. The next generation need to be prepared for this and there is no better way than being able to speak the most widely spoken Chinese language in order to be able to make the most of trade opportunities in the future. What we are doing here at Hatfield is future proofing our children’s job opportunities for years to come.”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

About a fifth of the world’s population speaks some form of Chinese, and Mandarin is the most widely spoken language — with an estimated 960 million speakers.

Hatfield Academy head of languages Tracey Kennan teaches numbers in Mandarin to students (l-r) Madison Wright, Sana Ahmadi, Abdifatah Muhumed (front l) and Rhylan Marritt with Chinese visitor Li Li. Picture: Andrew Roe

Hatfield has taken the unusual step of employing a full time Mandarin teacher.

Tracy Keenan has been at the school for just over a year specialising in teaching Mandarin.

Having lived for a number of years in Beijing she is using her first-hand knowledge to help pupils.

She said: “Initially it is hard for the children to understand there is no alphabet to learn but after they get their heads round this their language learning really takes off.

“We are actually finding the younger they are the easier it is for them to comprehend.

“And parents have been really positive about this too, with many saying they already do business with China and see this as a huge benefit for their children.” The delegation visiting Hatfield was led by Shanghai based Xiehe Education Group.

The delegates requested a visit to observe how pupils at the primary academy are learning Mandarin and deepening their understanding of Chinese culture.

The school has also teamed up with Sheffield University’s Confucius Institute to deliver cultural aspects of the Mandarin teaching programme. It will be providing Chinese teachers to assist with the school’s extra-curricular Mandarin language programme and cultural workshops.

Deputy director Li Xiao said: “Hatfield Academy’s grasp of the potential to a student’s future employability is hugely forward thinking. This programme will benefit such young children so that they have a clearer vision for the better understanding of the world.”

Councillor Jackie Drayton, Sheffield City Council’s cabinet member for children, young people and families said: “We want our young people to be better prepared for life and work in a multi-cultural, global marketplace. China is already one of Sheffield’s most significant overseas markets.

“We are determined to give all of our young people every opportunity to improve their language and literacy skills and raise attainment for every child in Sheffield.

“Evidence shows that early language learning improves literacy and that young children learn languages more easily.

“Well done to Hatfield School, they’ve recognised that teaching languages in primary schools is a golden opportunity to make a difference to our young people. I certainly wish I’d had this opportunity to learn a language when I was at primary school.”

Hatfield Academy went into special measures in the last academic year but the Ofsted report praised the work of the school’s new head teacher for “tackling weaknesses with vigour, speed and decisiveness”.