A remote Taranaki school is equipping its students with the skills to converse with the world's economic powerhouse - China.
Marco School, with a roll of 15, offers its pupils Mandarin through a virtual learning network.
The language is not offered in any of the region's high schools but principals are not ruling out the option of having it available.
But for Marco pupils Mathew Gower, 11, and Reuben Pease, 10, the language has been part of their curriculum for the past three years.
The boys spend their Wednesday mornings learning the language with a tutor from the Confucius Institute.
The institute is a non-profit organisation established by Auckland University, Shanghai's Fudan University and the Office of Chinese Language Council International.
It provides schools with teaching resources and other materials to help with learning.
It was the challenge and excitement of learning another language that spurred Mathew and Reuben to get involved.
Reuben has been learning Mandarin since it was first introduced three years ago and Mathew joined the following year.
Both Mathew and Reuben introduced themselves to the Taranaki Daily News in Mandarin before inviting reporter and photographer to observe the lesson, which was conducted through a multiway intercom.
Their tutor's voice soon fills the air, along with the voices of other students, all ready for a session on how to count to 20 and how to ask someone's age.
Sitting at Mathew's and Reuben's elbows was a well-worn file filled with the language's words, pronunciation and symbols.
Powerpoint slides of the day's lessons flashed on a computer screen for the boys.
"But we learned that ages ago," Reuben said of Wednesday's class. "We don't usually join that class."
Mathew's and Reuben's classmates are learning how to address mum, dad, siblings and grandparents in Chinese.
Learning Chinese can sometimes get quite hard, Reuben said. "But I know most of my numbers and can count up to 40."
Mathew said the language was "nice and easy" and Reuben would "whisper the answer" to him if he was stuck.
Principal Jen Vincent decided to offer Mandarin to her students as it was the "main speaking language" of the world.
"And if you want to get a good job overseas, you really need to be speaking Chinese," Vincent said.
French is on the menu for Marco's year 7 and 8 pupils.
Matapu, Makahu, Huiakama and Oakura schools also offer Mandarin.
- Taranaki Daily News
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