Local students compete at first annual Mandarin Spelling Bee

Students from Co-op Academy Leeds and Harrogate Grammar School went head-to-head in a Mandarin Spelling Bee held at Co-op Academy Leeds on 1 July.

Harrogate Grammar School (HGS) has been a Confucius Classroom affiliated with the Business Confucius Institute at the University of Leeds (BCI) since 2015. Mandarin was introduced at Co-op Academy Leeds (CAL) two years ago, and students have been taking classes with a BCI teacher for the past year.

The Spelling Bee was initiated by Jacqui Kirkland, Head of Modern Foreign Languages at CAL, as a fun way to motivate students and foster collaboration between schools. After a few initial rounds completed in classes over a few weeks and conducted in a similar way to spelling tests, the top students from each school were selected to take part in the final.

The Mandarin Spelling Bee final was held at Co-op Academy Leeds and judged by:

  • Richard Barnard, Teacher of Chinese at HGS
  • Hongwei Yan, BCI Chinese Director
  • Yuan Zhang, BCI Chinese teacher and Chinese teacher at CAL
  • Jie Liu, BCI Head Chinese teacher
Judges in action at the 2019 Mandarin Spelling Bee

Judges in action at the 2019 Mandarin Spelling Bee

Students heard a word from the wordlist in English, and wrote the Chinese translation in pinyin on a whiteboard. Pinyin is the main romanisation system for writing Chinese characters based on pronunciation, and includes marks (similar to accents in languages like French and Spanish) to show the tones. All elements had to be correct to achieve a full mark, but half marks were awarded if only minor mistakes were made.

The final head to head round saw three HGS students battle it out for the title. The final result was:

  • 1st – Robin Wilkins
  • 2nd – Grace Ladbury
  • 3rd – Tess Wilson
Spelling Bee winner Robin Wilkins receiving his prize

Spelling Bee winner Robin Wilkins receiving his prize

HGS will therefore be the first school to take home the Mandarin Spelling Bee trophy awarded by the BCI. This will go to the winning school each year in this annual competition.

Richard Barnard, Chinese Teacher at HGS, said:

It was a fantastic day and I was proud to see my students come 1st 2nd and 3rd in the Spelling Bee. Everyone in the competition only has an hour of Mandarin a week and it’s great to see what they have all achieved. I can’t wait to work with my students as they aim for higher levels in the YCT exams.  They are a fantastic group of students and I genuinely look forward to teaching them every lesson. It is also fantastic to find another school who has a passion for Chinese and I look forward to further collaboration with them!

Jacqui Kirkland has big plans for the future of the Mandarin Spelling Bee:

It was an amazing event! All students has clearly worked hard in the run up to the finals and supported each other well on the day.

I can’t wait for the next one! It’ll be wonderful to see this competition grow in future years and hopefully it won’t just be between us and HGS, hopefully other schools will join in the fun too and it will get bigger and better every year!