students watching digital TV and interactingSt Aloysius Catholic Primary School students crossed culture and time zones in their first lesson with My Chinese Teacher. While the Cronulla school experienced a blistering summer day, their Mandarin tutor showed them the snow falling outside her window in Beijing as the lesson began via Skype.

Six months on, students in Years 1 to 6 have mastered numbers, greetings and other vocabulary through the weekly 20-minute lessons that use video conferencing to teach them the language.

“Having actual Chinese tutors in Beijing come into the classroom in this format is really good,” said Principal Elizabeth Ovens.

“The tutor will refer to each of the children by name. That personal interaction is wonderful and we know that learning a language is very good for your brain. The student’s brain synapses are open, so they pick it up like second nature. They  really love it.”

It’s great to understand a different culture and language.

– Charlotte Buhagiar

Mrs Ovens said practical considerations including the two-hour time difference between Sydney and Beijing, and that China is Australia’s largest trading partner, helped to decide upon Mandarin as a school language.

Year 5 student Charlotte Buhagiar and her peers have already tested their skills when greeting Chinese visitors to their school in April, and tourists at the beach where they attend a surf awareness program.

She said the language would be useful when she goes to China with her parents, who visit for business.

“It’s great to understand a different culture and language,” she said. “The lessons are very interactive because the teacher gets us to talk to each other. The numbers are really easy and the teachers are kind.

“I love to learn Chinese because it’s fun and I hope when I go back to China, I’ll be able to say some new words.”