Should my children learn Mandarin?

Chinese is the so-called most difficult language to learn in the world. It has put many language learners into a dilemma. For those who have children, they have some opinions in contrast in learning Mandarin.

Some think it’s a language with great potential. On the contrast, others don’t think it necessary to learn anything other than its definition. So why do we need to learn Chinese?

English is Enough?

Most people who don’t think Mandarin is worth learning hold the opinion that English is enough for them. Using English as their mother tongue, they won’t face any problem in daily conversation.

They don’t need to learn another language for work most of the time as well.

As any speakers of other languages do, these learners would have strong accents. Some even developed a special type of local accent, for example, the Indians.

The function of English hasn’t been decreased even their English may be thought as “not standard”.

Spoken English is important to show you’re well-educated people or not. While working, people speak better English are easier to get promotion.

Thus, English is still the most widely used language all over the world. It would continue ranking first in the future for a long period of time as we can predict.

But learning Chinese is also a trend for the language learners in the future.

Binding to the internet, our life has changed a lot, so as our needs in language learning. The Babel is gradually collapsing. Since there is not such a thing as “universal language” by now, learning a second language would be a good choice.

Most people who want to gain more opportunities in the 21st century would have this need.

Some might think “the more popular, the better” and choose to learn Spanish after English. It has more than 4700 million users around the world.

Although Chinese has more than 1.4 billion users, most of them live in China.

In fact, the number of learners of Chinese is increasing in the past decade. By the end of 2020, there are 180 countries and regions starting up the Chinese teaching project.

Among which, more than 70 of them formed Chinese into their education system.

An estimated of more than 20 million foreign language lovers are learning Chinese. Still, the number remains to be increasing each year.

The statistics suggesting the awareness of Chinese’s vitality has been gradually discovered. As another proof of its rising, Chinese became one of the official languages of UNWTO in 2021.

Why not Cantonese?

As is shown above, Chinese have several competitors though it has many users. It is surprisingly to be found that Cantonese is one of its competitors.

In American TV series, you can always find some Cantonese in China Town. These scenes are also the truth in real circumstances.

By the end of 18 century, immigrants from Canton flooded into many countries and regions. They mostly came to Southeast Asia and Americas to make a living.

Later, they became the mainstream of overseas Chinese.  Their dialect was carried to all these places.

Until now, there are over 140 million Cantonese users spread around the world. Is Cantonese more popular than Mandarin?

This could be true before the establishment of the People’s Republic of China. Afterwards, Mandarin was pointed to be the official language of China.

As Mandarin was used by more and more Chinese, Cantonese in China also started to learn Mandarin.

The Cantonese immigrants all over the world has also face a problem about their language. Living in countries or regions using English, few of their offspring knows Chinese.

This problem often arises in families whose parents are from different culture.

Many of their offspring are willing to learn Mandarin. They want to break the “language gap” between their grandparents and them.

Even the “old school” Cantonese have started up campaigns to pick up their Mandarin.

the advantage of learning Chinese

What’s the Advantage?

Being defined as a tool like the other languages, Chinese has some unique advantages. Taking English as a comparison, you’ll probably have a better glance at them.

Tracing back to ancient times, Chinese is a kind of pictograph. It’s a set of picture-like drawings carved on rocks and bones (mostly turtle shells and buff bones).

No wonder why foreign learners would only see some random strings.

Another feature of pictograph is that you can know its meaning by simply looking at it. This won’t happen when you read English.

They are just some combination of letters if you don’t understand their meaning.

Since Chinese is quite complex, some might deem it as a burden of learners, even for those who are grown-ups.

As the muscles need practice by work outs, your brain would also be stronger by learning Chinese.

Experts have confirmed learning Chinese at a young age would benefit a lot. This can activate the deeper layer of the neural system.

Children will perform better not only in language courses. They do better than the average students in mathematics and science as well.

The effect is also proved by many well-off families in China. Sir Ka-shing Li as one of the most famous celebrities who benefits a lot from learning Chinese at his early age.

That’s just the effect of reading Chinese characters without knowing their meaning!

How to Help?

How to be a part of their children’s support in Chinese learning remains to be a tough problem for many parents. Sadly, many of them don’t know much about Chinese.

Seemingly, the only thing they could do is to find a “good” teacher (actually they could hardly tell what’s good).

To help your children with Chinese study, you should get some basic knowledge of Chinese.

Hard to Distinguish?

The alphabets, no matter in which language, are the fundamental part. There seems to be little difference between pinyin and English alphabets.

This happens when English learners or native speakers first see them.

As parents in countries and regions using English as your first language, it would be a problem for you at first. I guess maybe you’re a little bit worried about if your children would mix them up.

The truth is that you don’t need to worry about this. Although looking alike, these characters have two differences indeed.

The first difference is the writing order of these characters. We know in English, letter “a” is written in only one move.

It can be finished in two moves in pinyin, first the left part, then the right part.

Some characters even look different if you compare them careful enough. “f” might be the perfect example. The lower case “f” consists of three columns when being written, and it has a turning-back part at the end. In pinyin, it only crosses two columns, with no turning-back part at the end.

Another difference is the pronunciation of these two kinds of characters. Some sound alike. As an example, “i” sounds quite alike.

The only difference between them is that “i” is a little bit longer than in English alphabets (much like the “i:” sound).

The biggest difference other than the alphabet is the tone system. In Chinese, there are four tones (some might say it has five, including the neutral tone).

Named the flat tone, the rising tone, the falling-rising tone and the falling tone.

The comparison in English is the accent symbol.  It suggests the strength of the latter vowel or consonant sounds (or combination) only. Thus, most of learners in Chinese would have some trouble in falling-rising tone.

Back to the simple finals (also called vowel sounds in Chinese alphabets), that’s quite easy to adjust. Here, we divide the way to pronounce a particular simple final into three items.

These feaures are the shape of your lips, the position of your tongue and the width of your mouth open.

The nature changes when you pronounce the simple finals, and what you need to do is to follow these changes. “a” is usually the first Chinese alphabet your kids would learn.

When they learn the following “o”, “e”, “I”, “u” and “ü”, the only thing to do is to adjust one or two of these features.

Read more: What is the best way to learn Chinese for kids over 3 years old?

How to Speak?

After your children passed the pronunciation part, the next part is speaking. Seemingly, putting all these together, and you can speak out any Chinese character.

However, native Chinese speakers, like any other language users, don’t use pinyin most of time. At the beginning of their Chinese study, your children will mostly depend on pinyin.

But it has to be stopped when they come to the advanced stage.

So as parents, you should let your children stop using (or depend less on) pinyin step by step. A guessing game would help to reduce the anxiety during this process.

You don’t have to pick too much pinyin at the beginning, five is probably the maximum. To add some joy into this game, you can also join in and make this a competition.

After your kids learn some characters, you can find some related pictures and let them “guess” what it is. Showing a part of the picture, and all you got to do is to let your children guess what it is, but only in Chinese.

You might think why we don’t put Chinese characters into this game. Yes, that would be what we put into the advanced game. We build up this bridge by pictures.

And I guess you’ll know what we should do next.

After a period of time, we stop using pictures as main evidence of the game. This may take a little bit long, for several months at least.

Later, you can give your children more Chinese characters to recognize.

This is just one of all the methods in companying your children in learning Chinese. You can think something new to continue drawing your children’s attention.

Read more: How to teach Chinese for kids?

How to Follow?

Using a particular language properly also need you to receive information from others. Yet, in daily conversations, the meaning would be vague if you don’t know background stories.

Despite the background information, the speed is another essential part in spoken Chinese. A native Chinese speaker speaks about 240 Chinese characters per minute in normal.

When it comes to radio or TV, the speaker would speak about 300 in one minute.

In fact, there is no need to ask your children to follow what the speakers say. Even a grown up couldn’t say he/she wouldn’t miss a word when listening.

Instead, focus on the material would be a better idea.

Some may think it’s not a good idea to let their children watch animations every day, and I’m quite agree with them. However, animations are truly helpful in language learning.

Since watching TV too much is harmful to the eyes, “listening” to the animation is what we could do.

The materials are not just animation, but any topic your kids would like. You don’t have to know if they get what the characters’ idea, just let them listen, and that’s enough.

This way not only improves the listening of your kids but spoken Chinese in their further study.

How to Write?

Getting used to writing English letters is much easier than Chinese characters. Many children would feel uneasy when they first start to “write”.

As they don’t know what these characters are made up of, we can let them “draw” their characters first.

Chinese is a kind of “pictogram”, which means they are drawings when they were invented.  So, for your children, this is much fun to “draw” than write.

If your children are old enough to write, they need more systematic instructions from an expert teacher.

Conclusion

Learning a second language in modern society is a must, and Chinese is a good choice competing with other languages.

As parents, you should know your children well before you make decisions for them. There’s nothing more valuable than a great childhood.

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