In Spain, even toddlers learn Chinese for job hopes

In Spain, even toddlers learn Chinese for job hopes
Teacher Fu Huijuan during a Chinese class at the TEO private nursery in Madrid.

MADRID - "Xiang jiao! Banana!" says Fu Huijuan, beaming as she waves the fruit in front of her three-year-old pupil, Leon, at a Madrid nursery school.

He and his four classmates have barely learned to speak even in their native Spanish, but already they are absorbing Mandarin Chinese - as are many adult Spaniards concerned for their job prospects.

"Xiang jiao," Leon replies in a tiny voice, grinning as he is rewarded with a bite of banana and a sticker. "Xie xie. Thank you."

Fu's class - offered free for the first month - is the newest after-hours activity for children at the TEO private nursery, whose parents hope it will pay off later in life.

Numerous schools and language centres here have started holding such lessons as Spaniards look to China's fast-growing economy for opportunities after five years of on-off recession in Spain.

"Chinese seems to me an essential language in today's world, and the best way to learn it is from an early age. Learning it as an adult seems much more difficult," says Leon's mother, Sara Vergara.

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