Bolton School for Boys' Mandarin learning journey

29 June 2017

Mr Colin Hough and Mandarin teacher Mr Zhang Weizhi share their experiences of introducing Mandarin to their school.

As part of a curriculum review in 2013, Bolton School Boys’ Division Senior School decided to review foreign language learning in the Junior School and investigated the possibility of introducing Mandarin Chinese. Languages’ Coordinator Mr Colin Hough then attended a 16 week teacher’s course at the Confucius Institute and their Mandarin learning journey has been going from strength to strength ever since. 

Mr Hough explains that through the help of the Confucius Institute, the school began a gradual phasing in through one 35 minute lesson per week across all 4 year groups. All the work was based on the YCT curriculum with the hope that all Y6 boys could take this test at the end of their primary school career. Initially the subject was delivered by CI teachers but in 2015 they were fortunate enough to welcome their own Chinese teacher, Mr Zhang Weizhi, who has been an invaluable asset for language provision at the school. He has developed Mandarin language clubs and introduced the language as one of their portfolio of languages offered in the Senior Boys’ School at Secondary level, where it is hoped that Chinese will sit alongside French, German, Spanish and Russian.

Many of the parents are world-wide travellers through their professions and so readily see the benefit of learning Mandarin Chinese in light of international trade. Parents who were unsure of the change looked upon our choice with positive eyes when this was explained to them. Some parents have expressed that they would like to know more and so the school is considering introducing a few quick lessons for them so they can get a flavour of what the children are learning.
Another reason why Mr Hough was keen to introduce Mandarin Chinese is that with it being a tonal language, research has indicated that the brain processes the tones or pitches in the right hemisphere of the brain before the left hemisphere processes the meaning. English only uses the left hemisphere. Due to this, the school is awakening a part of the brain not readily used. This may have benefits for all students but it’s particularly interesting for any dyslexic students as they tap into and exercise part of the brain that English speakers do not usually use.

Mr Zhang Weizhi, Chinese teacher at the school adds:

‘I have worked in this independent school for 2 years and during that time the number of Mandarin learners has steadily increased to 250 students. Since I started my role here, my colleagues in the Modern Foreign Language Department have been a great help to me, demonstrating how to adjust my teaching method to fit the English students’ learning style. Feedback from students has also been invaluable. They think the Mandarin lessons are interesting and Chinese culture is amazing; they enjoy learning about Chinese history, the story of Chinese characters, how to use Mandarin to order food or shop on Taobao etc. Students also enjoy expressing their views about their Chinese learning though the topic report.

I have recently re-written the YCT text book and will review and adapt it during the summer holiday, with the hope that I can make students’ Mandarin learning more efficient. I have shared some good teaching methods and materials with my school in Beijing and my colleagues there have said that they found the resources and ideas enlightening.

After another set of successful YCT exams at the end of the school year, I can truly say that every time I hear “Ni hao” at Bolton School it makes me so very proud.’


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