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Parents hope learning Chinese is children's ticket to success

From Nkepile Mabuse, CNN
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South African students learn Chinese
  • South African school helping prepare children for future by teaching Mandarin Chinese
  • School director says some companies offer bursaries to children who can speak Chinese
  • China recently overtook the United States as South Africa's biggest trade partner

Pretoria, South Africa (CNN) -- Mandarin Chinese isn't a language you would expect to hear on the streets of South African cities.

But as trade with China grows -- worth a record $20 billion in 2010 -- more and more children are being encouraged to learn the language.

Students attending a special school in Pretoria start at the very beginning, counting to 10, and as they get older they graduate to Chinese etiquette and simple conversation.

By the time they get to high school, these South African kids can read and write simple sentences in Mandarin.

Gallery: Pretoria's Chinese school
  • Pretoria
  • China
  • Chinese Language
  • Trade

The Pretoria Chinese School was established in 1934 to cater for what was then a small Chinese community. Today, it has morphed into a multi-racial embodiment of Nelson Mandela's rainbow nation.

School director Seew Hau says China's economic growth and its huge investments in Africa have had a direct impact on the school.

"We know of big companies offering bursaries to children if they had a Mandarin background," Hau said.

Parent Philisiwe Ngoetjana is confident her decision to bring her son and daughter to the school will one day pay off.

"They could go to the Far East, they could study there. China is investing all over the world and in Africa particularly, so they can have great careers with that skill," Ngoetjana said.

While many of the kids complain that writing and pronouncing Chinese words is difficult, they enjoy learning about the culture.

"For Chinese New Year for example, a lot of different things symbolize different things," student Nicolene Steenkamp said. "Noodles symbolize something -- the longer the noodle the longer your life."

Last year, trade between China and Africa as a whole exceeded $100 billion -- mainly to feed China's appetite for African commodities.

And while learning Mandarin is still something of an exotic rarity in South Africa, it could be the smartest investment these kids make.