14-year-old who studied Mandarin in his own time gains A* in his GCSE

PUBLISHED: 09:06 24 August 2015 | UPDATED: 09:07 24 August 2015

Oliver Coe, 14, who has just passed his GCSE in Chinese Mandarin with A*.
Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Oliver Coe, 14, who has just passed his GCSE in Chinese Mandarin with A*. Picture by SIMON FINLAY.

Archant Norfolk.

It started with an eight-year-old’s fascination with Chinese characters, but now a Thorpe St Andrew teenager is celebrating after six years of after-school study culminated in an A* grade in GCSE Mandarin.

Oliver Coe’s passion for the language was sparked when a friend of his mother, Amanda, gave him a Japanese phrase book in 2009, and his mum convinced him that learning Chinese would be more useful.

She organised after-school lessons with a private tutor, Jing Song, but assumed his interest would pass after a couple of weeks.

Instead, the 14-year-old Thorpe St Andrew School pupil has carried on the tutorials, and in the months leading up to this summer’s exams he studied for up to two hours a day.

Although Oliver learned the language in his own time, he was able to take the exams at his school, at the same time that pupils two years older than him were sitting their GCSEs.

He thought he was going to get a grade B, but said that when he saw he had gained the top A* grade he “was just laughing, I was so happy”.

Oliver added: “I just wanted to get good grades, because I have heard that when you want to go to university, it would be easier to get in if I have got a language, and a language like Mandarin makes me much more employable.”

His studies have become something of a community effort.

If his mum was working when he got home from school, he would visit his neighbours, Jill Utting and Tony Barber, who would test his knowledge of the language, and the 170 Chinese characters he needed to recognise in the exams, using his flash cards.

His family is now planning a celebratory meal with them and his tutor to thank them for all their help.

Oliver has never been to China, but is hoping to find part time work that would help him save up for the trip of a lifetime.

He said: “I would love to see the Great Wall of China. I would love to see the Forbidden City, and the Summer Palace, and go on the Yangtze and see the pandas.”

He is now planing to progress to A-level Mandarin, but has found one particular difficulty studying the language in Norfolk.

He said: “It’s hard to find different people to speak with, because there are not too many Mandarin speakers in Norwich that I have met. I would love to converse with Chinese people more, because it would make me much more fluent.”

Miss Coe said: “I’m very proud. It’s not been easy. He has been quite stressed out at times, but he had done so well.

“The most important thing is to find people he can converse with.”

Can you help Oliver practise his Mandarin? Email

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