A, B, Chinese?

It's never too early to get started on that international business degree. At least that's the thinking at Shaker Heights' all-girls Laurel School, which is introducing Mandarin Chinese to its kindergarten and first-grade curriculum starting this fall.

The private school added the complex language — spoken by more than 880 million of the world's citizens — not only to give its students an edge over their peers, but also because the dialect is easier to master the younger one starts.

"Mandarin Chinese is a tonal language with four tones," explains lower-school associate director Joan Moody. "Children are able to pick up tones easier and the earlier a student begins studying that language, the more authentic her pronunciation will be."

The melodic language also boosts musical development and hand-eye coordination as children learn to write the intricate Chinese characters, Moody adds. The students will study the language for 25 minutes three out of every six days in the classroom and the language will be added to additional primary grades in successive years. The program is the only one of its kind among Greater Cleveland's private schools.

"We are committed to promoting the cultural aspects of China," Moody says, "with the sure knowledge that our students will be traveling and doing business there one day."

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