Should your primary aged child learn Mandarin?
You’re probably going to expect me to say yes what with me owning a business, Little Dragons, which teaches Mandarin to children and all. So it might surprise you to hear me say, “maybe!” Let me explain….
I was born in Leeds in the 1970s. When I was six years old, my life changed forever when my Dad accepted a job in Dubai and the whole family moved from Yorkshire to the Arabian Gulf. I should say that Dubai was a bit different in the early 80s. A lot different, in fact. We lived on Jumeirah Beach and you couldn’t see anything along the shoreline for a considerable distance. Now Jumeirah Beach is packed with high-rise hotels and apartments as far as the eye can see!
Moving to Dubai meant that my sister and I attended an international school and started learning Arabic and French at around the age of 7. This is highly significant. Research has shown that learning a foreign language before the age of 10-12 keeps a neural pathway relating to language learning open in your brain for the rest of your life. Otherwise, it will close down around that time (it’s a developmental thing related to acquisition of your mother tongue). If the pathway stays open, you will find learning foreign languages easier for the rest of your life. Amazing!
For me, learning foreign languages has enriched my life so much. I still remember going to the souk (market) in Dubai with my Mum and haggling in Arabic with the traders there. Not only was it great fun, but we got better deals on our shopping! Travel is one of the greatest joys in life for me and being able to speak the language of the countries you visit adds so much depth to the experience, even if it’s just a few words! I truly believe that you will never fully understand a culture unless you can speak the language.
After coming back to the UK aged 11, I enthusiastically continued studying languages and ended up studying French and Italian at University. I also speak Spanish and German along with various other bits and bobs. When I was on maternity leave after my daughter was born five years ago, I was looking to create a business that meant that I didn’t have to go back to my job. I kept hearing about Mandarin being important on the news. The government was saying that a lack of Mandarin speakers is holding the UK back. With China set to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy within the next few years, that’s a situation that will only get worse. I looked into Mandarin teaching in the UK and discovered that high quality lessons for non-Chinese heritage primary aged children were very hard to come by. So I set up Little Dragons, teaching weekend classes and also within Primary and Secondary schools.
When I met one of the very few (less than 5) UK Qualified Primary Teachers with Mandarin last year, David Jones, we got chatting and decided to work together. We had both wanted to make high quality Mandarin lessons available to any family who wanted to learn – regardless of location or finances. To that end, we created the Little Dragons Mandarin For Kids course. This is an online series of video lessons with supporting worksheets and resources that covers Chinese language and culture in a fun and lively way, designed and delivered by David – a.k.a DJ Mandarin – with support from native speaker Mo Mo and naughty puppet Mr Panda. Eventually, the lessons will stretch right up to GCSE level or beyond.
As mentioned previously, if someone asks whether their primary aged child should learn Mandarin, I would say “maybe!” Why? Because it is much more important that they learn any foreign language from as early as possible than that they learn Mandarin, per se. Mandarin is, however, going to be of increasing importance in the world, of that there is no doubt. Children don’t approach languages with the baggage that adults do. They don’t expect Mandarin to be hard, and in many ways it isn’t! There are no noun genders to remember, so no le/la or der/die/das. There are also no verb conjugations so no j’aime, tu aimes, il aime etc etc. Characters are tricky, but if your eight year old learnt ten characters a week until the age of eighteen, they would know as many as a highly educated Chinese person does! China has a fascinating and rich culture, one of the longest continuous cultures in the world, in fact. Mandarin is an excellent choice as a second language and will give your child a great skill to take into the world of work when the time comes. If you are wondering whether your child would enjoy Mandarin, please check out the free taster lesson on the home page of our website www.thelittledragons.co.uk. We know that children as young as 2 are enjoying our lessons, not to mention many Mums and Dads who are learning Mandarin with their children and having lots of fun as a family at the same time!