March 12, 2014 1:47 pm
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In Europe and the United States alike, a growing interest in Mandarin Chinese is leading to big changes in public and private education, with various schools for adults and children now incorporating this language into their curriculum. Many parents are currently encouraging their children, aged as young as four or five, to learn Mandarin, in an attempt to boost their prospects in the face of an increasingly competitive workforce.

Chinese growth 

Despite a marked increase in popularity of Mandarin Chinese, it is interesting to view a spate of news articles and blogs advising adults and children alike not to bother learning this challenging language. Fluency in this language is impossible, their authors say, without spending many years in China; Mandarin (which utilises over 2,000 characters) is too difficult to learn in one’s free time; the tonality of the language (an array of pitches are used to convey different meanings) is a hurdle most students will fail to overcome. Even eight hours weekly spent on the subject, they claim, is not enough for top-grade fluency to be achieved.

Mandarin

Yet the statistics cannot be argued with: currently, some 40 million foreign students are studying Mandarin in China and by the year 2020, the Chinese government predicts that this number will rise to 100 million. According to Malaysia-chronicle.com, ‘China is now the number one producer of wind and solar power in the entire globe’. It is also the number one nation in the world in terms of trading when import and export totals are added; it boasts more foreign currency reserves than any other country; China consumes more energy than the U.S. and is the leading manufacturer of goods. There is no doubt that the study of the Chinese language can open many doors, many of which are simply not immediately foreseeable. Owing precisely to the difficulty of Chinese, children have a better chance at achieving a good conversational level if they start young. Moreover, bilingualism is not the only valid goal for budding students; even having an intermediate speaking level can go a long way in sectors such as the tourism industry.

Increase in Chinese tourism

Recent developments show the growth of Chinese investment in Europe. In late 2013, Chinese Premier, Li Keqiang, attended a Sino-CEE summit in Romania, where he and dignitaries from 16 other countries pledged to forge tighter economic ties in the near future. Chinese tourism to Europe is also on the rise, with countries like Spain receiving some 33 per cent more visitors in 2013 than in 2012. Many Chinese tourists favour countries like Spain and Italy as popular tourist destinations. As noted by planetcruise.co.uk, the Mediterranean is one of the ‘most popular cruising destinations’ for tourists from across the globe. In addition to economic reasons, there are more factors attracting children and adults alike to hone their skills in Mandarin. Recent studies indicate that speaking this language has an entirely different effect on the brain than speaking other languages. The study, undertaken by researchers at the Wellcome Trust in the UK, has revealed that the tones, sound and complicated characters used in Mandarin Chinese employ both temporal lobes in the brain (speakers use only the left temporal lobe for the English language). As Languageboat.com states, ‘learning Chinese may train a host of cognitive abilities not utilised in the study of other languages’.

It is hardly a source of surprise to find that learning Mandarin has such vastly different effects on the brain than other languages, all of which descend from a system developed in Mesopotamia thousands of years ago. The origins of the Chinese language are of a completely different nature and although learning this language for the first time can undoubtedly be time-consuming and challenging, it is also an entertaining and, some would say, beautiful, melodic way to boost one’s economic future and brain power.

Eve Pearce

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