AT only 17, Ariel Reingold has been named the best non-native Mandarin speaker in the country.
And his secret? He gained the language knack by learning Hebrew for his barmitzvah.
“It’s a very hard language to learn,” he said. “But my Hebrew lessons gave me a greater interest. It gave me a visual idea of how languages could be different.
“The fact that I’ve already been to China also helped. I got to see the culture, the religions, and how people interact. You can’t beat being in the environment with native speakers as the best way to learn.”
The Highgate School pupil from Finchley, north London, won himself another trip to Beijing as first prize in a Mandarin speaking contest run by the British Council and HSBC to promote the language here. But this one may be slightly more luxurious. His earlier visit, two years ago, saw him spend two months with his family back-packing.
David Cameron spoke of his hope that other young people would learn the language during a recent visit to China. And Sir Martin Davidson, chief executive of the British Council said: “The UK’s future prosperity depends in no small part on our ability to communicate and build relationships with people from around the world.
“China is a particularly important country for the UK.”
Ariel saw off competition from students all over the UK who competed in regional heats to win their place in a grand final.
He said: “I had to do a presentation in Mandarin for three minutes and then answer questions on it in Mandarin.
The judges said my pronunciation was very good. I’m not fluent but I’m much better at speaking than writing.
“By next year, I want to be fluent.”
He chose to study the language as part of his GSCE options after doing a taster course in year eight.
He is now in the first year of his A levels and plans to study medicine at university.
He said: “I hope in the future I can uncover some links between British and Chinese medicine.”