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

In Year 9, pupils who choose to do Mandarin as a beginner’s course are given an introduction to the language and culture. The course focuses on all four linguistic skills at a beginners’ level. Cultural elements are also embedded in the programme: pupils are given or can choose their own Chinese name, learn about Chinese festivals, make Chinese food in the school kitchen and utilise traditional skills such as paper cutting and Chinese calligraphy. After the one year taster course in Year 9, pupils can choose to continue studying Mandarin as one of their GCSE subjects. The exam tests the four essential skills: listening, reading, speaking and writing.

For native and advanced Mandarin leaners, pupils will have small class tutorial to prepare them for Cambridge GCSE Mandarin Chinese 1st language or 2nd Language examination. 

All pupils who have completed the one year of Mandarin learning course, will be able to have opportunity take external YCT examination. The HSK/YCT (Chinese Proficiency Test) is an international standardised Chinese Language test which measures the ability of non-native speakers such as foreign pupils and overseas Chinese. 


Entry requirements: This course is designed for pupils who have achieved at least B grade for IGCSE or level 7 in GCSE or above. 

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

Entry requirements: No previous knowledge of the language is required for IB Mandarin ab initio but you must have studied another language at GCSE.

The IB Mandarin ab initio 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

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

The IB Chinese B: Mandarin 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.

Every year, it has become a tradition at Gresham’s to celebrate the Chinese New Year. 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. 

Trips to China have been 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.

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