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Inside the UK’s first bilingual English and Chinese primary school [Copy link] 中文

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Post time 2017-10-10 15:34:50 |Display all floors
(Financial Times) As a girl growing up in an English-speaking household in Singapore, Prema Gurunathan grudgingly studied Mandarin. Now a mother in west London, she is taking no chances with her own son. When he turned one Ms Gurunathan insisted their household in Hammersmith speak Mandarin for half of each week. She recruited an au pair from east Asia (she prefers not to say exactly where, for fear of tipping off the competition). And last month, she and her husband enrolled the three-and-a-half year-old at Kensington Wade in London, Britain’s first primary school to offer full Mandarin immersion for its pupils. “It’s intellectual, it’s cultural and it’s ‘future-proofing’, if you will,” said Ms Gurunathan, a self-confessed “tiger mom” and policy wonk, explaining her school choice. “And it’s fun.”

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Post time 2017-10-10 15:36:41 |Display all floors
Sir Martin Sorrell, the Sinophile chief executive of the advertising conglomerate WPP, was at Kensington Wade on a recent evening, for a reception to celebrate the Chinese mid-autumn festival. “Chinese and [computer] code — those are the two languages as far as I’m concerned!” Sir Martin declared, offering assurance to the gaggle of parents that the £17,000-a-year tuition they had shelled out for at the newly opened school was money well spent.

A craze for Mandarin, largely confined to affluent families in London, seems at odds with Britain’s pastime of convincing others to learn its tongue. Still, it moved into full swing under the previous Conservative government when George Osborne, the then chancellor, offered primary schools £10m to introduce classes.

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Post time 2017-10-10 15:38:27 |Display all floors
For those parents inclined to start their children early, there is Hatching Dragons, the UK’s first Mandarin-English nursery. It claims to “foster fluency” in both languages by age five, and has just opened a second London location with a third soon to follow. “I’ve got enough evidence that if a child joins us at six months and stays until they are five, 50 hours a week, they will be orally fluent,” said Cennydd John, who founded Hatching Dragons in 2015, after the birth of his son.

If you doubt him, says Mr John, go check his YouTube videos. In the US, there are now a few hundred schools offering immersive Mandarin education, not only on the coasts but also in places like Kansas and Nebraska. This year’s National Chinese Language Conference drew more than 1,200 teachers and other attendees to Houston to compare notes. “Chinese is the emerging language because China is emerging as a political and economic power,” said Antonella Sorace, a linguistics professor who founded the Bilingualism Matters centre at the University of Edinburgh. “It’s regarded as a good investment.” Or, as Ms Gurunathan said: “A lot of Chinese people will be speaking brilliant English [in the future], but it gets you through the door.” The brainchild of Professor Hugo de Burgh, a specialist in Chinese media, Kensington Wade has been years in the making — not least because of the challenge of finding property in west London. It is named after Sir Thomas Wade, a 19th century British diplomat who produced one of the first English-Mandarin textbooks.

Its inaugural class of 15 students arrived last month. Three were fluent Mandarin speakers while about half had no Mandarin. They were shepherded by parents from the US, South America, Russia, Europe and Great Britain. “Highly intelligent business people who are either working with China or understand the importance of it, with high aspirations for their children,” is how Jo Wallace, Kensington Wade’s headteacher, describes them. The school’s funding comes from a group of socially minded private investors, according to Prof de Burgh. The Chinese government has contributed nothing more than a few textbooks.

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