Senior school > Curriculum > Mandarin Chinese

Gresham’s is the only school in Norfolk which offers Mandarin as part of the main curriculum for both A level and IB.  Mandarin Chinese is spoken by more than a billion people making it the most widely spoken language in the world. It is spoken almost three times more than English as a first language. 

Despite the initial challenge, there are many compelling reasons to study Chinese. Chinese is particularly fascinating because of how it depicts concepts and ideas. Through an astonishing array of beautiful logographic characters, melodic spoken language, and poetic phrasing, the language educates us in a world view morally and spiritually. The endeavour to learn Chinese can make us stronger and wiser in character. There are many practical reasons to acquire another language: Chinese is becoming an increasingly invaluable asset within global industry, relationships, and dialogues.  

Gresham’s has established an outstanding profile for its expertise in Mandarin teaching and learning. We have been teaching Mandarin to non-native speakers for over 15 years. The overall number of pupils is growing as the subject becomes popular and embedded in the life of the school. We have had an A Level/IB cohort since 2012 and are seeing non-native speakers applying to read Chinese or Oriental/Asian Studies courses at Oxbridge and other Russell Group universities.  


Exam board: AQA GCSE

Mandarin Chinese has the greatest number of native speakers in the world. Being able to speak Mandarin enables you to communicate with one-fifth of the population on the planet and participate in perhaps the most intriguing and fascinating culture in the east.

Chinese script is possibly the oldest written language still in existence. Learning Chinese in written form is an exciting journey to gain insight into Chinese philosophy, cultural heritage and wisdom.

With the increasing global economic and political importance of China, studying Mandarin Chinese is the gateway to equip speakers with the power invested in participating in social, economic and cultural global citizenship and the associated benefits towards opening up opportunities for your future career.

Exam: Listening (25%); Reading (25%); Speaking (25%); Writing (25%).


Entry requirements: Pupils who have achieved at least Grade 6 in GCSE Mandarin or equivalent.

In UK universities, there are fruitful courses on offer, such as Chinese studies with social science, Chinese with Humanities, and Chinese with Medicine. Almost every year, pupils carry on to study Chinese in higher education.

The syllabus for A Level Mandarin Chinese is divided into four themes: 

Theme 1 – Changes in Contemporary Chinese society

Theme 2 – Chinese Culture

Theme 3 – Evolving Chinese Society

Theme 4 – Post-1978 China on the World Stage

There are two externally examined papers assessing listening, reading, and writing, and a speaking assessment. The speaking assessment is externally set and conducted by a teacher-examiner.

Paper 1: Listening, reading and translation (40%)
Paper 2: Written response to works and translation (30%)
Paper 3: Speaking (30%)


Entry requirements: Pupils may have limited or no knowledge about the Chinese language. The course meets the needs of pupils who are interested in learning a new language as part of the IB Diploma.

The syllabus is divided into five themes:

  • Identities
  • Experiences
  • Human ingenuity
  • Social organization
  • Sharing the planet

The course consists of two linear examination, Paper 1 and 2 sat at the end of two years. One internally assessed and externally moderated speaking exam – Individual Oral, assessed by the teacher. Paper 1: Writing (25%); Paper 2: Listening and Reading (50%) and Individual oral assessment (25%)


Entry requirements: Native Speaker

Available at higher and standard level. Higher level study requires a minimum of 240 class hours, while standard level study requires a minimum of 150 class hours. Students study 6 works at higher level and 4 works at standard level from a representative selection of literary forms, periods and places. Students also study a range of non-literary texts and bodies of work that include a wide variety of text-types.


Standard Level Paper 1 (35%): The paper consists of two unseen non-literary passages, from two different text types, each accompanied by a question. Pupils choose one passage and write an analysis of it. 

Paper 2 (35%): The paper consists of four general questions. In response to one question, pupils write a comparative essay based on two literary works studied in the course. 

Individual Oral (30%): This component is internally assessed and externally moderated by the IB.


Entry requirements: Grade A in IGCSE Chinese or 7 in GCSE (9-1) equivalent

In the UK universities, there are fruitful courses on offer, such as Chinese studies
with social science, Chinese with humanities, and Chinese with Medicine, etc.
Almost every year pupils carry on to study Chinese in higher education.

As Mandarin has the largest population of native speakers in the world, pupils
studying Mandarin Chinese are open to opportunities in the global job market such
as finance, business, journalism, diplomacy, tourism, translation, education and art,

The course comprises five prescribed themes:

  • Identities: Explore the nature of the self and what it is to be human.
  • Experiences: Explore and tell the stories of the events, experiences and journeys that shape our lives.
  • Human ingenuity: Explore the ways in which human creativity and innovation affect our world.
  • Social organization: Explore the ways in which groups of people organized themselves or are organized, through common systems or interests.
  • Sharing the planet: Explore the challenges and opportunities faced by individuals and communities in the modern world.

The course consists of two linear examination, Paper 1 and 2 sat at the end of two years. One internally assessed and external moderated speaking exams – Individual oral assessment assessed by the teacher.
For higher level speaking assessment: A conversation with the teacher, based on an extract from one of the literary works studied in class, followed by discussion based on one or more of the themes from the syllabus. For standard level speaking assessment: A conversation with the teacher, based on a visual stimulus, followed by discussion based on an additional theme. Paper 1: Writing (25%). Paper 2: Listening and reading (50%), Individual oral assessment (25%).


Every year, it has become a tradition at Gresham’s to celebrate the Chinese New Year and Mid – Autumn festival.  Activities include cooking (their own authentic Chinese dishes), eating (at a Chinese restaurant), or joining the Chinese pupils at the New Year hot pot party. We also organise Trip to London China town and to visit British museum southeast Asia.

If there are enough interests, Trips to China can also be organised for pupils to help them learn more about the Chinese culture and language. Previously, as part of an overseas programme, pupils received 20 hours of Mandarin lessons and travelled to Beijing and Xian to visit schools and historical sites such as the Great Wall of China, the Summer Palace, the Terracotta Warriors, and local villages and markets. They also took part in cultural activities such as tai-chi in the morning, played Chinese musical instruments.

View more subject choices

A level
IB Diploma