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Last Updated: Friday, 19 January 2007, 16:19 GMT
College pupils learning Mandarin
Pupils being taught to speak Mandarin
Students are learning Mandarin from an early age
A school in Harrogate has started teaching Mandarin to pupils as they prepare for possible careers in which access to the Chinese economy is vital.

Students at the town's Ladies College are being given lessons in the art of speaking a language already used by an estimated one billion people.

Fiona Shen, visiting from Shanghai's Fudan University, said the pupils need to grasp the language's tones early.

Deputy head teacher David Andrews believes it will be a vital course.

It is estimated that in 20 years' time there will be three universal languages, English, Spanish and Chinese
Deputy head teacher David Andrews

Ms Shen said that with learning Mandarin the students have to be careful. Just a different tone in the voice could cause embarrassment.

"For example the phonetic Maa-maa means 'mum' but if it is pronounced with another tone Maa-aa it means 'horse'. It's totally different."

The college is teaching Mandarin because the Chinese economy is the said to be fastest growing in the world.

An estimated one billion people speak Mandarin and in future British women working for companies with international export interests could have a head-start if they can use the native language.

Chinese business people take it as a mark of respect if a visitor has taken the trouble to learn their language.

Mr Andrews said: "It is estimated that in 20 years' time there will be three universal languages, English, Spanish and Chinese. That's the way things are going.

"If you have one of those languages, then you can communicate with the whole world."

Teachers at the college hope that in future senior girls will be able to take exams in the subject at A-level standard.

The pupils speaking Mandarin

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