Last month the Austin Area Chinese Language Speech Contest, held on April 23 at Doss Elementary, brought together 5 local Chinese Mandarin language schools. Mandarin language learners competed on preparedness, pronunciation and performance in Mandarin .
The mere existence of such a contest for language learners speaks to the rapidly growing sector of Mandarin language learning schools in Austin and elsewhere in the United States. Much of this growth is attributed to parents who want their children to learn Mandarin.
What was once considered a regional language in the Asian continent, Mandarin is now being viewed more and more as a global language with important properties of its own. To understand a bit more about this trend, we asked several parents why they chose Mandarin as a second language for their children.
“Mandarin, because of its inherent structure and use of tones and pitch, complements and can facilitate learning in music and math.”
“I like that my child is learning a language that is so different from his native language. It makes his mind work harder, which is good for his brain development.”
“One benefit is the logic in the language. I think it has helped us as a family when looking at life and the meaning in things around us.”
It develops “sensitivity to sound and tone.”
“I decided to have my son be exposed to a tonal language early so that he would not miss out on the opportunity to develop accurate tone and pitch which could be useful for him in later years.”
“We looked for a language that was complex and completely different from Western languages.”
Most answers strongly emphasized the benefits of the language itself and its contrast to Western languages. Tonal languages like Chinese and Vietnamese use pitch to distinguish between a number of words that follow the same vowel and consonant sound. A benefit of distinguishing pitch can also transfer to music; yet to develop accurate pitch, one must be exposed to it early in life. (Study Links Perfect Pitch to Tonal Language, New York Times). The other key factor is the logical yet simple structure of the language. Chinese, like Korean, Japanese and Turkish, can facilitate the learning of mathematical concepts more easily than do Western languages because they use fewer words and are able to convey concepts in a more simplified manner (The Best Language for Math, Wall Street Journal).
“The cultural influence in learning Mandarin pushes my child to do more and try a bit harder than do other current programs based in our Western society. “
“I like that my child is exposed to a culture that in many respects is so different from his own. It helps him be aware of and open to multiple perspectives.”
“Since embarking on this journey it has and continues be an amazing one. Our perception of the culture was blown out of the water…”
“The support is amazing! Meggie and her teachers are attentive to students’ needs and readily adjust to continue to challenge them at the same time making it fun.”
“The children in this community seem to really learn how to get along and respect each other; more so than children do in other programs I have seen.”
Every person we spoke to felt that they not only learned more about the Chinese culture after their children began lessons, but that they also came to greatly appreciate and value the culture and the positive impact it had in their own lives. Many expressed feeling being part of a community that values mutual respect, growth, support and nurturing.
“My child will be able to speak to 90% of the worlds population by speaking English, Spanish and Mandarin.”
“We looked for [a foreign language] that was complex and factored in globalization.”
Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world with China home to roughly 20 percent of the world’s population (A Surprising Map of the World Shows Just How Big China’s Population is, the Atlantic). In the U.S., the Chinese American population has long been the largest population within the Asian American population, (making up 21% of the Asian American population), and is now also the fastest growing population in that community, growing approximately 38% between 2000 and 2010 (U.S. Census).
In global trade, China is the United States’ second largest trading partner and its largest importer. Moreover, China’s integration in the supply chain of almost every global industry places an ever greater priority to have a population who can engage with businesses and leaders in China through an understanding of both language and culture.
What about other languages?
Before ditching other languages for Mandarin, realize that knowing a second language has great value in itself and other languages can even be of greater value to you than studying Mandarin. Cognitive and social benefits from being bilingual are conferred regardless of the second language acquired. Yet the ability to stay connected with one’s own culture and heritage through language is very valuable and should not be quickly undermined. Additionally, the proximity to Latin America and the expanding influence of Spanish in American society still makes Spanish a number one choice for language learners (click here for an article by Nicholas Kristof in the New York Times on this topic). Lastly, other important considerations include travel and other personal interests in learning about a region or culture.
Interested in Finding a Mandarin Program for You or Your Family?
You can find a Mandarin language program that meets your or your family’s needs in the greater Austin area by searching our directory. Type “Mandarin” in the box for “Search by Language or Keyword” and then choose a category. You may also click here and then search by category only.