When Year 4 Junior School student William Saunders started learning Mandarin in Kindergarten at Trinity Grammar School in Sydney, he could never have dreamed of the journey he would take, and the path to inspiration that would follow.
There are many reasons why Primary school children should learn a new language, including improved literacy and cognitive development. From Pre-Kindergarten to Year 6, all boys at Trinity undertake Mandarin lessons, learning the language, culture, songs and poems. For William, Mandarin became a passion, and the vast impacts of learning a language set him on a trajectory that was life-changing.
In 2018 a group of 11 Trinity Junior School boys entered the NSW Chinese Recitation Competition, a first for Trinity. The boys competed with more than 100 students from schools across NSW, with William being one of three to make the national final competition. He went on to win the National Champion Award in the non-native Chinese speakers primary group at the 2018 ‘Hello Mandarin’ Australian National Chinese Recitation 2018 Competition.
William and two of his schoolmates (including his younger brother, James), then competed in the Grand Final of the 2018 ‘Voice of Hua Yun’ Chinese Recitation Competition, which was held in Beijing. The boys competed with 45 participants in their age group from six countries, including Australia, America, Canada, New Zealand, United Arabic Emirates and Spain. William won first prize in the Years 3 and 4 group (non-native speaker), his brother James took out Age Champion for Years 1 and 2, and classmate Aidan Wong won the Age Champion for Years 3 and 4. International tours can enrich learning, and according to William’s Mum, Neesha Gan-Saunders, the China visit, along with the win, was life-changing for her son: “Not only did he improve his Mandarin speaking, but he also grew as a person,” she said.
The impact of the win isn’t limited to William’s Mandarin studies. It has inspired a detailed painting as part of a school art project to investigate colour and art. Given the concept: ‘The painter of the future will be a colourist and fit together the jigsaw pieces of colour in ways no one has before,’ William chose to depict hundreds of colourful faces looking up to a stage. It is an expression of the feeling and emotion he experienced while performing in the finals of the recitation competition in China in front of a crowd. William used a cubism approach to create the artwork and was inspired by Pablo Picasso’s style to paint the many colourful faces in the crowd. It took him more than five months to complete.
“My art project relates to when I was in China on the stage reciting my Mandarin story in front of thousands. I was choosing my happiest feeling and I remembered this experience. I was scared and nervous, but in the end, I felt proud and happy because I had won the competition,” he reflected. William’s Art teacher Finella Clark said William’s work was an “Extremely successful and beautiful piece of art.”
Trinity Grammar School Mandarin teacher Mary Wang, became involved with the recitation competition in 2018, coaching and accompanying the boys to China. Mary herself was also awarded in Beijing, winning Best Instructor as chosen by the event organisers.
William and his brother James, backed up last year’s wins by again taking out the Age Champion titles in their respective age groups, at this year’s Grand Final in Beijing, which was held in late August. Not just that - James blitzed the competition, scoring the highest marks of the whole competition (all age groups) and William achieved the second highest score.
William and James have also have gained the attention of international media, being invited to appear on ‘Voice of Kids’ by Hubei TV, one of the biggest TV stations in China. The programme features children performing recitations and the episode will focus on Australian children learning Chinese.
Mary says she is proud of how far her Mandarin students have come. “Last year we had 11 boys participate in the NSW competition, with three of them making the Australian final and going on to compete in Beijing where each won their division. This year, 30 students participated in the state competition, 13 made it to the national competition and qualified for International competition, but only the Saunders boys were able to make the trip to Beijing, winning their events!
The experience of competing in these recitation competitions, regardless of the results, is an enriching and valuable one for all of my students,” commented Mary.
Trinity recognises the many benefits of learning a second language and has a strong and well-established language programme, offering Mandarin to all students from Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12. Other languages including French, German and Latin are offered from Year 7, and in addition, Classical Greek, Japanese and Spanish are offered in Years 11 and 12 for International Baccalaureate (IB) Diploma students.
From its outset, Trinity Grammar School has provided a rich cultural environment enabling boys to recite their stories and express the intangibles of life. Recognising the strong links between creative arts and academic performance, Trinity offers a comprehensive Creative Arts programme to students from Pre-Kindergarten to Year 12. This rich history has been the foundation for a breadth of performing and exhibition arts being taught, encouraged and fostered by some of the most passionate and expert educators in the country.
To find out why we are Sydney’s leading school for boys and to learn more about the Trinity difference and the creative arts at Trinity, download our Creative Arts booklet.