Huanyíng — welcome — to Sacred Heart RC Primary School where children are mastering Mandarin.

The high-achieving primary school has added the Chinese language lessons to its timetable to enrich pupils’ learning and prepare them for the global market.

Teaching of modern foreign languages will become compulsory in September - and when the Westhoughton school was asked if it wanted to teach Mandarin, the languages department did not hesitate to say yào — yes.

Karen Harrison, Sacred Heart’s foreign languages teacher, said: “As a forward-thinking school, we were approached to offer Mandarin and we said yes because it is a language which will equip them for the global economy.

“Year Four children have been learning the language since October.”

The school showcased its Mandarin teaching at the learning technology show in London on Thursday.

China is one of the world’s most-buoyant, growing economies and statistics show almost 25 per cent of the world’s population now speak Chinese.

This means the ability to speak the language will be one of the most important business skills of the 21st century.

And, according to the British Council, the UK lags behind international competitors in language learning and inter- cultural skills and is losing out in the global race.

Mrs Harrison, a French and German teacher, said not having a knowledge of the language did not put her or the children at a disadvantage.

The resources — text books, online resources and games — were supplied by Dragons in Europe.

Mrs Harrison said: “I stay one step ahead of the children. I was a little nervous at the thought of teaching Mandarin to the children. My background is in French and German, with all the children here learning French, but the resources are easy to follow and the language is explained fully.”

Children have one class a week learning the language and many enjoy it so much they learn independently at home. They can have fluent conversations and understand the writing.

Youngsters are also learning the culture and traditions of China, such as putting out two hands to accept something from someone.

Mrs Harrison said: “It is so important for children to know another language — there is a whole world of languages out there. This is a good age for them to learn — they have no inhibitions and soak up all the teaching.

“They really enjoy the lessons and are keen and enthusiastic.”

The children are so eager to learn the language, they are practising with each other and Mandarin-speaking people they meet.

Annabel Edge, aged nine, said: “My sister is in China teaching English, and I know the language better than she does. “I am very excited about going to China to see her and speak the language. We really enjoy learning the language, and I would like to continue learning at secondary school. I could continue to learn it myself on the computer. I speak French when I go to France, you can’t just know English.”

Mia Parkinson, aged nine added: “I was getting fish and chips with my mother, and she told the lady that I was learning Mandarin, and I spoke to her in the language. I was quite proud that I did it.

“I want to be a teacher when I am older and if I can speak another language, then I can help people who don’t know English.

“Learning another language is important because you need them when you go on holiday.”