It's never too early to start learning a foreign language - even if you are just mastering the basics of reading and writing in your mother tongue.
For a growing number of Canberra Grammar students at the Northside Early Childhood campus, their introduction to literacy is accompanied by studies in Chinese Mandarin.
Mandarin and Italian were yesterday announced as the first languages to be rolled out nationally under the new Australian curriculum.
The Shape of the Australian Curriculum: Languages, which was issued yesterday by the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority, is based on the assumption that all Australian students should, and will, learn a language in primary and secondary school.
The new national curriculum - encompassing English, science, maths and history - is being rolled out from 2013.
Schools Minister Peter Garrett said yesterday the new national curriculum was ''part of a renewed national focus on the learning of languages''.
And as Australia embraced the ''Asian century'' it was ''vital that future generations are able to engage with our regional neighbours - providing Australian students with greater opportunity to learn regional languages is therefore important from an economic and diplomatic perspective,'' Mr Garrett said.
The authority has also articulated ''a clear commitment to, and positioning of, Aboriginal languages and Torres Strait Islander languages'', with Australia having come under sustained international fire for the deteriorating state of its indigenous language learning.
Director of Early Childhood Education at Northside Jenny Thompson said Mandarin had overtaken French in popularity in the junior school, with Northside next year offering two Mandarin classes instead of one.
She welcomed any emphasis on language learning in the national curriculum, saying foreign languages not only helped children grasp English but broadened their perception of the world.
Ms Thompson, who has also taught in regional areas of NSW, welcomed any moves to bolster indigenous languages, saying it was a shame so many had already been lost.
''The earlier a child is introduced to languages the better, as they show an openness and almost a precocity to picking it up,'' she said.
While Mandarin and Italian will be the first units to be developed, ACARA will also begin working with the states and territories to develop curricula for Arabic, Auslan (sign language), classical languages, French, German, Hindi, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean, Modern Greek, Spanish, Turkish and Vietnamese.