Mandarin is spoken by almost one billion people and is one of the most widely spoken languages in the world. Established at Gresham’s in 2011, the Chinese department has been flourishing and has achieved some very good exam results.

The aim of learning this language is for students to gain an interest in Chinese language and culture, achieve well in public exams and help build the language foundations to compete in the global economies of the future.

The number of students who study Mandarin and Chinese at the school has increased steadily every year. The language is taught at different levels to benefit students of all standards from complete beginners to fluent speakers.

In 2014, the first GCSE cohort achieved 100% A* – C with one student receiving an offer to read Oriental Studies in Chinese at the University of Oxford.  In 2015, 67% achieved A* – A at GCSE with the average IB score of 6 points achieved (maximum score = 7) across the various Mandarin courses on offer.


Understanding Mandarin and the Chinese culture

In Year 9, students who choose to do Mandarin are given an introduction of the   language and culture. The course focuses on all four linguistic skills at beginners’ level. Cultural elements are also embedded in the programme: students are given or choose their own Chinese name, learning about Chinese festivals, making Chinese food in the school kitchen and trying paper cutting and Chinese calligraphy. At the end of the course, a martial arts instructor comes to the school for students to experience Chinese Kung-Fu.

GCSE Chinese

After the one year ‘taster’ course in Year 9, pupils in Year 10 can choose to continue studying Mandarin. By the end of Year 11, they will take Chinese at GCSE.

IGCSE first language Chinese

Native Chinese students who wish to take IGCSE Chinese will be given individual or group lessons with our Chinese language assistant to help them prepare for the examination.

Cambridge Pre-U Mandarin

After the GCSE Chinese examination, students can opt to study Mandarin at A level. As well as strengthening their Mandarin linguistic skills, the course offers analysis of Chinese history, contemporary economic tread and covers issues such as population, environment and migration. Students also study Chinese literature and film as part of the course.

A level Chinese

Native Chinese students who wish to take A level Chinese do so through self-study with the support of a teacher who can help them with exam techniques.

IB Diploma

Lower Sixth Form students who choose to do the IB Diploma have the option to take Mandarin at different levels (ab initio, standard level or a higher level paper).  IB Mandarin is a challenging and effective programme that by the end of the two year course, students will have a sound knowledge of Mandarin and a deeper intercultural understanding.

IB Diploma – Mandarin ab initio

This course is for students at beginners’ level: who have no experience of learning Mandarin or less than two years of formal learning.

IB Diploma – Chinese B

This course is for students at the intermediate level: who have taken GCSE Chinese or have been learning Mandarin for more than two years.

IB Diploma – Chinese A: language and literature

This course is for students at advanced level: whose Chinese is their first language or at a proficiency level.


Every year, it has become a tradition at Gresham’s to celebrate Chinese New Year. It is celebrated in different forms: students learn to make Chinese dishes on their own, or they are taken to a Chinese restaurant or join the Chinese students at the ‘New Year hot pot party’!

Trips to China have been organised for students to help them learn more about the Chinese culture and language. As part of this former overseas programme, students 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 and completed their programme by singing a Mandarin song to an audience of more than 500 people which was broadcast on China’s national TV.

In 2014, pupils in a Year 9 maths set learnt Mandarin to celebrate European Day of Languages at the school. Dr Tsai challenged the class to try to beat the record of learning to say 1-99 in less than six minutes, which had been set by the Year 9 Mandarin set just weeks before. They were narrowly beaten by seven minutes. They were also taught different shapes and simple fractions and enjoyed Mandarin in maths! In addition, the current record (2015, September) at Gresham’s of learning to count 1-99 in Mandarin is currently 3:32!

In 2015, an Asian-fusion rock band ‘Transition’ came to Gresham’s to lead a Mandarin song-writing workshop for students. The band is from the UK but has lived in Taiwan for three years. It was their intention to ‘connect’ with local people which inspired them to write and sing their songs in Mandarin. The band shared useful tips about learning Mandarin which has inspired students to write Mandarin lyrics of their own to perform on stage! The evening was great fun which highlighted how students can learn Mandarin through song.