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4 ways to achieve Chinese GCSE success

Alice Webb, Head of Mandarin at Benenden School, explains the value of teenagers learning Chinese and how schools can achieve success in this subject

Posted by Lucinda Reid | August 29, 2017 | Teaching

Here at Benenden School we are extremely proud of the success our girls have achieved in their Chinese GCSE results, particularly that 100% of non-Chinese native speakers achieved A* grades – this represents 14% of the year group and 13 girls, none of whom had studied any Mandarin before starting at Benenden. Students may choose freely from three languages: French, Spanish and Mandarin, and can begin learning it either at 11 or 13. Mandarin is increasingly popular as a language choice as students see the benefit of a non-Romance language in terms of global employment and helping them stand out in a competitive job market.

How did the girls achieve such a high level of success? There are four main areas which are essential to not only gaining the academic results but for the students to gain a skill which they can make use of for the rest of their lives.

There must be full support from the school, not only within the teaching team itself, but also on a cross-curricular level and a senior management level

Firstly, the students must have a very interesting and inspirational introduction to the subject. We realise that for most, a trip to China will not be possible during their time at school, although we do offer biennial trips to Beijing and Shanghai. Thus we create a sense of Chinese culture on site through regular events such as Moon Festival and celebrations of Chinese New Year where the girls can practise their language and have a sense of the importance of Chinese cultural traditions. The younger girls experience both traditional language teaching and lessons on the culture, politics and geography of Chinese speaking nations.

Secondly, we ensure that rigour in the lessons is combined with extremely high expectations, a focus on accuracy, and a good blend of speaking, listening and grammar, with inspiring and imaginative resources shared across the department of three teachers.

Thirdly, the personalities and abilities of the students need to be assessed individually so that as far as possible their learning can be tailored to their particular needs. We do a lot of work on differentiation and provide tailored support sessions depending on the student’s strengths and weaknesses.

Chinese is an important subject to learn because of its relevance in the modern world, and we are proud to see increasing numbers of girls choosing the subject

Fourthly, there must be full support from the school, not only within the teaching team itself, but also on a cross-curricular level and a senior management level. As a Mandarin Department grows and achieves Confucius Classroom status, further support can be gained from Hanban teachers. We gained Confucius Classroom status in 2014 and offer a thriving outreach programme to offer taster lessons to local prep and primary schools as well as building links with universities and employers where students can go on work experience and we are proud that we have several year groups now where girls have taken Mandarin A-level and gone on to read the language or a related subject at prestigious universities.

Chinese is an important subject to learn because of its relevance in the modern world, and we are proud to see increasing numbers of girls choosing the subject. The language and culture is so fascinating and interesting to discover that the learning process can combine both enjoyment and knowledge to open doors to an exciting future!

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