Chinese is a hit at an Edinburgh school with pupils who wouldn't usually be considered natural linguists.
Melany-Lu Lin, head of Chinese at St George's School for Girls, said that far from its often daunting reputation, the language had proved remarkably accessible. A total of 209 pupils from P4 to S6 are learning Chinese this session, the majority of whom are non-native speakers, in formal classes and in clubs. She said that many students with little aptitude for languages had shown excellent progress.
MissLin explained that Chinese had little in the way of grammar, compared with other languages, meaning that classes revolved more around the building of vocabulary. Pupils also revel in learning the characters. This involves the combination of existing characters to give new meaning. For example, characters for "man" (pictured left) and "words" together make "trust".
"Students enjoy learning Chinese because it's so different," said Miss Lin.
"With the characters, it's like solving a puzzle. At the beginning I say that writing characters is like building a house - you have to have the foundations."
She believes that the demands of Chinese reward hard work above natural talent: "You can't afford to have lazy learners in Chinese."
The Scottish Qualifications Authority has set up a steering group to develop Scotland's first exams in Mandarin - from Intermediate to Advanced Higher level - in time for the 2009 diet.