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Last Updated: Friday, 24 November 2006, 16:09 GMT
Taste of Orient for London pupils
Pupils at an east London convent school have been given a taste of the Orient in a linking project aimed at promoting the learning of Mandarin Chinese.

It began when Madame Sylviane Martinon, head of languages at Our Lady's Convent High school took something of a leap of faith.

Mandarin teacher Lily Chen
Mandarin is growing as a language of business, says Lily Chen

She decided to introduce the language to the Hackney school and hence the school to Chinese culture.

Now, Mandarin teacher Lily Chen explained, the language is compulsory for all Year 7 students and nearly 180 pupils at the school study it.

Ms Chen said: "Madame Martinon realised that Chinese was going to be a very important language and so she gave space for teaching and for the language to grow."

Olympian theme

In order to boost the subject's popularity Ms Chen worked closely with Mme Martinon on the detail of the linking project which culminated in the Beijing trip, funded by the British Council, earlier this month.

They decided to have a shared curriculum with an Olympic theme to highlight something the pupils in each country have in common.

They are seeing preparations for the games to be held in Beijing on 2008 and in east London in 2012.

Maybe they won't think China is so far away and maybe they will consider learning the language
Lily Chen

Ms Chen explained: "The students want to get to go to China but they should learn the language first."

She hopes that through the trip the students will get to know more about China and what the life is like there.

"Then maybe they won't think China is so far away and maybe they will consider taking the language further."

All pupils at the school, which is a specialist language college, spend one term learning Mandarin, two learning Spanish and three learning French.

Merissa with teacher Shan Li
Merissa was fascinated by her Chinese friends' daily exercise routine

In Year 8, they choose their best or preferred two.

Ms Chen, who now teaches Mandarin at five different schools in Hackney, says: "Everything is starting from brand new so we are really having to be creative. It's a big challenge.

"At the same time we are really learning a lot and we are seeing things growing from nothing."

A group of 16 pupils from the school have just returned from a trip to a school they are linked with in a northern suburb of Beijing.

The students spent eight days experiencing life at the Beijing Academy of Educational Science Pilot Middle School, and were treated to a bit of sight-seeing too.

Student army

They found life very different for the Chinese pupils on the other side of the world.

Merissa, 14, who went on the trip, said: "It was very different there but I liked it.

"Their school life is far stricter than ours is. They have got to be in school from 7am and they don't finish until 5pm. We start at 8.35am and the school day ends at 4.25pm.

"When I asked my pen pal Jeny how the school dealt with lateness and what the punishment was if you arrived late for school she said if she was late - she simply wouldn't go.

"She said she would rather miss a day at school than be late."

Lydia, aged 16, who also went on the trip, said she found her Chinese hosts very welcoming.

Teacher Ping Wang
There are no letters in Mandarin Chinese - only strokes

"They were all very friendly and very eager to talk to us because we were English.

"They were very disciplined in their work and in their life generally," she said.

One thing that Merissa found strange was the formal way in which her new Chinese friends stood up when they spoke in class.

This was very different from her own experience of class, she said, adding that she was glad of this.

She was also fascinated by way the Chinese students did exercises every morning in tracksuits promoting the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

And was so impressed with the perfect picture the army of students presented in their daily exercise routine that she filmed it on her mobile phone and is keeping it there for posterity.

School Day: China link-up
16 Nov 06 |  Education

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