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Last Updated: Friday, 11 March 2005, 18:53 GMT
Chinese is the language to learn
By Melissa Jackson
BBC News education reporter

Teacher Aidan O'Kelly visits a Chinese school
Linking up with Chinese schools is proving successful
Cantonese and Mandarin are the languages children should be learning at school if we are to capitalise on the future business potential of China, say experts.

China has the world's fastest growing economy and is rapidly becoming an influential player in global business and industry.

With the government announcing another 115m for foreign language teaching in England's schools, now is a good time to focus on how best to spend it.

Some schools are already ahead of the game - offering lessons in these key languages, which could help the next generation of business leaders conquer this rich and influential market.

Lauriston primary school in Hackney is taking the initiative with a 10-week Mandarin language project for 10 and 11-year-olds pupils in year 6.

China's economy is growing so quickly and becoming so influential in the world economy that people can't afford to ignore it
Mary Hennock, BBC business reporter

They have one lesson a week in Chinese and have already mastered the basics, like "hello" and "how are you".

They have also linked up with a school in Shen Yang, north-east China, to learn about their culture and their way of life.

Lauriston primary teacher Aidan O'Kelly helped organise the project after visiting several schools in China last May.

He said: "I came back thinking 'this is going to be a powerful economy'.

"The China project came out of Hackney's drive to promote links between our schools and those in China and to promote the Chinese language."

The group of 31 children from year 6 has been split into two smaller groups and a Chinese teacher come in every Friday to give them lessons in Mandarin - the language of northern China.

Mr O'Kelly said: "The first group project was a resounding success - the children were really enthusiastic and positive."

The children have also made short videos about themselves and their local community and have sent them off to their link school in China and hope to receive something similar in return.

More twinning

In another project, 40 London primary schools have formed a programme of exchange with schools in Beijing.

They link up via computer, courtesy of internet broadband provider the London Grid for Learning (LGfL).

During the links, Chinese pupils communicate with British pupils with the help of English-speaking teachers although many of the students in Beijing are already learning English and are fairly competent in the language.

LGfL content manager David Mason said: "The emphasis is on computers for the sake of learning.

"You get a class in London working with one in Beijing on the same topic - maybe in geography, maths, art or dance.

"The emphasis is on getting children working with each other on a common theme."

Last month, Chancellor Gordon Brown visited China and announced that he expects British exports to the country to quadruple by the end of the decade.

He made it clear in a speech he delivered during that trip that he wants every school, college and university to be twinned with an equivalent in China within the next five years.

The buoyant Chinese market is one that Britain needs to conquer and mastering the language is fundamental to this process.

BBC business reporter Mary Hennock said: "China's economy is growing so quickly and becoming so influential in the world economy that people can't afford to ignore it.

"British universities are educating thousands of engineering students from China and British companies are going to be competing with students educated in Britain, speaking fluent English and Chinese - these are going to be the executives of the future.

"People who want to be ahead in whatever industry need to think about China and learning Chinese."

115m to boost language learning
11 Mar 05 |  Education
Why China matters so much
07 Mar 05 |  Asia-Pacific
Country profile: China
07 Mar 05 |  Country profiles

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