From China to Cawston – lessons in Mandarin

Published on: 1 July 2017

In September 2016 Cawston Church of England Primary Academy started an international project using a weekly Skype link with a language school in China.

The contact with the organisation ‘My Education Group’ came through our Modern Foreign Languages Leader. As the school was looking to develop an international link to help towards achieving our International School Award from the British Council; we initially trialled a link for six weeks last summer with our Year 5 class. The children really enjoyed it, but as the Year 4, 5 and 6 classes learn French and Spanish in preparation for high school, we decided to take out a subscription for a full year with our Year 3 Class.

Mandarin is a major world language and more schools are opting to offer it as a language option. Linking in this way also offered an opportunity to develop aspects of cultural learning and understanding, which was an exciting prospect.

Since September the Year 3 class has benefited from a weekly live Mandarin lesson with a Chinese teacher based at the language school in Beijing.

The whole class participates in an interactive lesson over Skype lasting 25 minutes. The children have been learning basic Mandarin language greetings and vocabulary; they greet the teacher who recaps things learnt from the previous lesson and then progresses to new material. The children are actively involved in speaking the four tones of the verbal language; counting using a zero to ten rap, simple conversational greetings, ordering meals from a restaurant and learning animal names.

The Mandarin teacher is able to ask questions to which the children can respond, she also updates our pupils each session about an aspect of Chinese culture including the Great Wall of China, Food, Map of China, the Terracotta Army and the capital city. At the end of the session she tells them about the topic for the following lesson so they can do their own research before the next week.

The children reinforce and practise their language skills with Chinese symbols and vocabulary displayed in their classroom and the cultural learning has extended into other classwork through storytelling, celebration of the Chinese New Year and other national holidays, and willow-pattern artwork. The pupils have also been sharing their new language skills with those in other year groups by displaying Mandarin words on the school language board and teaching other classes Mandarin greetings.

The Year 3 class teacher, Miss Adams, comments that, “The pupils are able to see live pictures from China and are exposed to a diverse culture. They are learning respect and tolerance in this first-hand experience of a major world language and culture.”

It’s been an exciting and innovative way for the children to learn and connect with the world in a way that is largely outside their normal realm of experience. Hopefully it will be a memorable learning experience for them and they will continue to be able to build on the skills and knowledge they are acquiring in the future.

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