Most of us are pretty aware of how complicated the Chinese language is to learn. For one thing, it's not just one language but a group of related dialects that are so different from one another that many linguists refer to them as completely different languages.
Out of all these languages, most people probably think of Mandarin when they are thinking of Chinese. It's the most common and popular, as around 70% of China's population use this form of Chinese and there are about 960 million global speakers.
There is, of course, a standardised form of Mandarin which is taught in Chinese schools, used by the government and this is the version that foreign students study when they learn Chinese or Mandarin in school courses.
We know that Chinese is an extremely important language for the global future and that there are countless benefits for English-speakers who learn Chinese in both business and cultural aspects of life.
Most people also know that understanding and learning foreign languages is much easier when we are young. Unfortunately, school systems in Australia haven't quite caught up, and there are very few that offer Mandarin Chinese studies, especially at the primary level.
This article will consider the benefits of knowing Mandarin Chinese from a young age, and not just those that are related to future work. There are also plenty of fascinating cultural reasons to study the great language of China!
Practising Mandarin from a Young Age Helps Understand How We Use Language Everyday
For native English speakers, Chinese is generally considered as being one of the most difficult languages to learn and there are a couple of reasons for this.
The top reason is the sheer amount of characters that students need to learn to help reach a decent reading and writing level. There are around 40,000 characters used in Mandarin Chinese, although knowing only about 3,000 will be enough to read and write almost everything.
Understanding and memorising these characters can be a long process and takes plenty of practise writing and reading during each lesson over and over until students can use them naturally.
The other top difficulty comes in the spoken tones and pronunciation. Unlike in spoken English, when a Chinese person changes their tone when speaking, they can actually change the meaning of a word completely.
One of the major benefits of starting Chinese studies at a younger age is that you simply have more time to master these skills, so by the time a student is in high school, they will already have quite developed reading, speaking, listening and writing skills.
But the real benefit of studying from such a young age is that your mind is better able to look at language from different angles and understand and play with the construction of sentences, both your native English and other languages.
While this may not seem like the most popular skill or life lesson, it can actually be extremely useful and lead to an interesting job in the future.
For example, a writer needs to know how to work with language so that it connects with people and sounds natural and free. Editors of all kinds need to be able to pick up the smallest error in their copy. Poets need to be able to use words to connect with their audience.
Having a better understanding of the way language works from a young age will also make it much easier for people to begin courses in other foreign languages. Imagine how easy learning French will be after Chinese courses!
Making use of the vast stores of resources available for learning about the Chinese language and culture at a young age can give students a head start and keep them interested and motivated!
Allow them to Access their Creativity with Chinese
There are two common ways that learning Chinese can boost a child's creativity, by affecting their brain function and by exposing them to a new culture.
Let's start with the more scientific benefit...
Different studies have shown that foreign language learning can increase creativity and flexibility of mind. From a young age, bilingual children learn to look at the same object and give it different names.
What we call 'foot' in English is 'pied' in French or '脚' (jiǎo) in Chinese. They already see the world in two different ways, so it becomes easier to imagine new and interesting possibilities. By becoming more flexible in their worldview, they can also become more creative.
The other way language learning boosts creativity is by introducing children to a completely new cultural landscape, and China is a wonderful option for this. There are thousands of years of Chinese art and history.
And here, we're not just referring to traditional Chinese painting styles like Gongbi or Baimiao. There is so much more to a country's art and culture. You can look at foods in different regions, read fairy tales or find out about fascinating historical figures.
Any of this cultural history could inspire your child to create something completely new, or combine two already great styles. Getting children excited about the language is a top teaching method.
Improve their Future Career Opportunities by Mastering Chinese as a Child
Mandarin is one of the United Nations’ official languages, which shows how important it is in global relations, especially as related to business and the global economy.
Of course, the goal of each lesson at this point in time should not be to put pressure on children or even make them aware of the fact that being able to speak such a popular language can be a great advantage in business later on.
Their job as language students is to simply enjoy themselves and learn some new skills. Having said that, by putting your child in a Chinese course, you can know that you're setting them up for more career and job opportunities.
Australia's trade relationship with China is steadily growing and has become an essential feature of the Australian economy. Knowing Chinese won't help just those working in government or in the economy, but in almost every type of business.
There is a huge range of roles in the tourism sector, from travel guides to flight attendants. You could gain a role working in a luxury boutique mostly based on your ability to speak with Chinese clients.
It's pretty clear just how useful Chinese studies can be to your child and their job opportunities in the future!
Here are 10 tips to teach your kids Mandarin quickly and well!
Try More Interesting Methods of Language Learning
One of the best aspects of taking Chinese lessons as kids is that they don't need a formal course to learn both the spoken and written language very well.
While it's common for kids to take courses and lessons at Chinese schools, it might not actually be the best way to go about working on your child's Chinese level.
The main reason for this has to do with the way kids study and what they actually get out of their courses. When teenagers and adults take lessons to study a foreign language, they have to actively learn by reading textbooks, taking notes and speaking with a teacher.
This is not quite the same process for children. Think about your native language. How do you know it so well? Did you have textbooks with the meanings of different vocabulary? Did you have an online tutor for speaking practice?
Probably not, right?
That's because your education was what we call passively acquiring. This means that you observed the things happening around you, listened to people speaking and eventually started imitating them until you could communicate.
Children aren't always so good at sitting still and studying something, no matter how interested in it they are. It's also difficult for them to understand and remember language rules, which is key in traditional lessons.
What most children need is to simply spend free time around native speakers while they interact with each other, until they gain enough confidence to communicate themselves.
If your family speaks Chinese, then you can do anything from cooking together to reading a storybook, as long as you commit to communicating only in Mandarin.
For families with no Mandarin speakers, things are a touch more difficult. Here are a few methods you could try:
- Try to find schools in your area that offer immersion-based learning. Most of them offer the first lesson free!
- Looks for events in the local community that you can participate in, from cultural workshops to museum excursions.
- Become a member of your local Chinese association and see what events and clubs they offer for kids.
For children, the best way to quickly learn is to be constantly immersed in authentic experiences.
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