Six Oundle School pupils recently participated in the final of the annual HSBC Mandarin Speaking Competition at the British Museum and won first prize in the group performance category with their short Chinese play ‘Red Sorghum’, adapted from Mo Yan’s novel of the same name.
As their prize, the six pupils, Edward Willey (18), Coco Brown (16), Finn Taylor (16), Egan Pashley (16), Jason Parker (16) and Mimi Campbell-Breeden (14) will enjoy a trip to China in April, where they will have the opportunity to put their Mandarin to good use and experience Chinese culture first-hand, visiting historical sites and interacting with local students. The British Council will accompany the group.
Oundle’s head of Chinese, Hua Yan, said: “The pupils demonstrated good understanding of the content of the short play. Their Chinese pronunciation in the performance was very impressive indeed and I am very proud of them. We are always keen for pupils at Oundle to learn Chinese in a creative way, which includes learning Chinese through sketches. By doing so they have improved their confidence in spoken Chinese dramatically.”
The competition consisted of two categories – the individual presentation and the group performance. In the final competition, 33 pupils participated in the individual presentation and 13 groups from across the country took part in the group performance.
The nationwide competition aims to encourage greater interest in Chinese language and culture. Chinese is already spoken by more than a billion people worldwide and is gaining greater and greater importance, with China being the world’s second biggest economy. However, the British Council’s Languages for the Future report in 2013 showed that only 1 percent of UK adults can speak Mandarin.
The competition is aimed at pupils who are non-native speakers and who have started learning Mandarin Chinese recently. Over the past 12 years, it has helped to inspire hundreds of young people to further their Mandarin studies – some going on to graduate in Mandarin Chinese.
The British Council and HSBC have joined forces to run the competition since 2003. The British Council builds relationships for the UK through English, education and culture, and already links thousands of pupils and teachers in the UK and China. Since 2000, HSBC has helped more than 1,000 UK schools host teachers from China to encourage children to learn more about the language and Chinese culture.
Upper-sixth-former Ed Willey said: “It has been great fun to learn and perform this sketch with the others in the group, and we are looking forward to our trip to China in April. I have been offered a place to study Chinese at Cambridge after I leave Oundle in the summer, and believe that the extra work and practice that we have done has really helped me to improve my language skills.”
Last year Oundle School was recognised as a ‘Confucius classroom’ by Hanban, the Office of Chinese Language Council International, which is a public institution affiliated with the Chinese Ministry for Education. Hanban/Confucius Institute headquarters provides Chinese language and cultural teaching resources and services worldwide, meeting the demands of foreign Chinese learners and contributing to the development of multiculturalism. IOE (Institute of Education) ‘Confucius Classrooms’ are mainstream schools across England that both have Chinese embedded in their own curriculum and can give advice, support and taster classes to other schools in their region that are looking to start offering Chinese. There are currently 37 IOE ‘Confucius Classrooms’ in a variety of different English schools (both state-maintained and independent) which teach pupils of all ages, from infant 4 through to sixth form.
Oundle has offered Mandarin teaching since 1995 and was one of the first schools to do so. It started as an extra-curricular option and has developed into a popular timetabled option to GCSE and pre-U level. This year 20 pupils took GCSE Chinese, with 16 gaining an A* grade and 4 an A grade. At pre-U level, four pupils gained an A grade and one pupil gained a B grade.
Oundle benefits from visits from experienced teachers from China each year and free teaching resources in exchange for promoting Chinese teaching in the region – giving advice, support and taster classes to other schools in East Anglia that are looking to start offering Chinese.
Vicky Gough, schools adviser at the British Council, said: “For the UK to continue to prosper in the global marketplace, we need more of our young people to develop their language skills to work confidently around the world and in multinational organisations here in the UK. With China now the world’s second biggest economy, there are few more important partners for us in this respect. A good understanding of Chinese language and culture will give young Brits the advantage they need to live in a global society and compete in a global economy – it is fantastic to see so many talented young people already choosing to learn Mandarin Chinese and bringing their skills to this competition.”
Lorraine Thomas, senior manager global education and UK community investment at HSBC, said: “HSBC Global Research predicts that China will become the world’s largest economy by 2050. Learning Mandarin Chinese and understanding Chinese culture will be invaluable; helping us build connections with China and increase cross-border business and trade in the future. The competition highlights the importance of cross-cultural understanding and gives young people from the UK an opportunity to develop and improve their Chinese language skills. We are delighted to continue supporting the competition and encouraging young people to learn about China.”