When to Teach Your Kids Mandarin Chinese
With Mandarin being such a popular language these days throughout New York City and increasing throughout America and globally, the question is for parents is not if their kids should be learning Mandarin but when. Just in case you feel you're in the former, keep in mind that foreign language is an important pursuit of all children in their studies. And we're not talking just academics-wise learning the basic grammatical and vocabulary structures, we're more discussing the actual pursuit of learning about a foreign language and culture. Especially Mandarin Chinese is a great language to learn because it's so different than English, it forces your child to approach communication and the idea of culture in a brand new way. One of the most important aspects of learning a foreign language is the ability to let go of your native language's rules and structure and just speak, something that learning Chinese forces you to do (over say a romance language).
Okay, so now we've convinced you to have your children enroll in a Chinese class, but the question remains as to when in their life is best? There is no quick answer for this, to give you examples at Hills Learning we've been teaching babies who are 6 months old Mandarin. This class basically is just an opportunity to develop an ear for tones, and get used to how the language sounds. We also have classes for 5 year olds. Five year olds enjoy doing fun cultural activities and being exposed to the language through word games and songs. We have classes for highschoolers, who vigorously study for language class and have a passion for learning about the culture and perhaps will travel to China some day.
They key to understanding when your children should learn is how do you see them using the language in the future. Most parents will simply answer "I want my child to be fluent," without really understanding what fluency means. To some people, fluency is being able to travel to a country and get around the country, have conversations, maybe even be able to read a newspaper and have an indepth conversation in the language. I'm sorry but all these goals are easily attainable (although arguably more difficult) if you let your child wait to even college to start their Chinese studies.
Of course, the earlier the better when learning language, but hey let's be realistic. If your goals are to have your child conversational and able to read Chinese, they can start as late as college learning the language.
But, let's say instead, your goals are not basic comprehension and understanding but to "wow" people with their language skills. You picture your child being fully functional in the language, conducting business in Chinese and negotiating with the Chinese Premier. Or even just as important, maybe it's not fluency but you feel the earlier your child gets exposed the more likely their interest in the culture will be piqued.
Then, the earlier the better. Just be careful when learning Mandarin Chinese that the children don't get too confused with English. The Pinyin pronunciation system uses a romanized alphabet, we'd recommend them being taught to separate the pronunciation of both. Focusing on characters as well will help separate the alphabets.
In closing, we don't mean to send a mixed message. The increase in Chinese learning in New York City and beyond is an important trend that we will support. However, as a parent be very careful to introduce the language and culture in such a way that your children enjoy it and want to continue studying it. Learning language is a lifelong pursuit, one that shouldn't stop in college, adulthood, or even retirement. The most successful students we have are the ones that go home and can't wait to turn on that Chinese television show or listen to a Chinese pop song.