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Last Updated: Tuesday, 23 May 2006, 10:37 GMT 11:37 UK
Seven-year-olds learning Chinese
Pupils learning Chinese
The school believes languages are best learned from a young age
An independent school has introduced Mandarin Chinese lessons for all pupils aged seven to nine.

Manchester High School for Girls said children needed to develop skills "beyond the Western European languages" from a young age.

Mandarin is spoken by more than a billion people, about double the number who speak English.

Some independent schools offer it as a subject for GCSE and A-level students. At Brighton College it is compulsory.

'Best preparation'

Manchester High School for Girls' headmistress, Christine Lee-Jones, said: "China is the fastest-growing economy in the world and those who speak and read its official language will have an advantage in developing long-term commercial relationships.

"There is also a vibrant Chinese community in Manchester, so it is doubly important to offer Mandarin.

"Teaching Mandarin to our pupils from a young age offers them the best preparation for an exciting future. The earlier they start the better.

"The girls are thrilled about this new opportunity."

Experts have warned that an unofficial "hierarchy" of language learning still exists in schools, with "traditional" subjects such as French and German given priority over "newer ones" such as Mandarin, Arabic and Hindi.

Earlier this year, Anthony Seldon, head of Wellington College, said GCSEs and A-levels in Chinese needed to be made easier for children who did not speak the language at home.

Otherwise, pupils might be put off the subject, he added.

Chinese is currently offered at GCSE and A-level only by the Edexcel exam board.

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