While most 11 and 12-year-olds are just about getting to grips with French or Spanish in their first year at secondary school, youngsters at Abbeyfield in Chippenham are trying to get their tongues around Mandarin.

All Year 7 pupils at the school are taking part in China Challenge which encourages children to learn the language as well as finding out about the culture of the country.

Eventually it is hoped that when the present Year 7s are in Year 10 a large proportion of them will opt to take Mandarin at GCSE.

On Thursday the school held an afternoon of workshops to show off what they have already learnt to a number of invited guests including David Powell and Marc Allum from the Borough Lands charity, which has given the school a grant of £6,000 towards the project.

Mr Allum, who is an expert on the Antiques Roadshow as well as a trustee of Borough Lands, and Mr Powell were impressed with the youngsters’ knowledge and enthusiasm for all things Chinese.

Teacher Nicola Hammond said: “China Challenge is a three-year project which will involve some of the pupils going on a trip to the country when they are in Year 9. As a business and enterprise school this project is a good one for us to become involved in as Mandarin is becoming a more and more important language for business people.

“The children seem to be really enjoying Mandarin and even though the sounds are very difficult they are picking up the basics quite quickly.”

Abbeyfield is also working with three local primary schools, King’s Lodge, Charter and Monkton Park, so that pupils there have a basic understanding of Mandarin and Chinese culture when they arrive at Abbeyfield.

China Challenge is a company that specialises in organising educational trips to China. Some of the money donated by Borough Lands is to be used on audio and on-line educational aids to speed up the children’s learning of the language.