The following article comes from Mandarin teacher Maggie Sproule, who demonstrates the importance of students learning Mandarin.

I clearly remember when I was in kindergarten and was beginning to learn two languages, English and Mandarin. I had only spoken Hokkien, a form of Chinese dialect all my life, and now faced with the challenge of learning English and Chinese Mandarin. Even at that young age, I was very excited about the challenges and all the monumental benefits that learning new languages awaited me. The truth is language learning Mandarin has proven to the absolute best investment I can make.

English is often described as the global language or lingua franca, so learning it makes perfect sense. But why learn Mandarin?

Number one common language

The current population of the People’s Republic of China is 1,440,934,089[1] and Ethnologue puts the number of native speakers at 1.3 billion native speakers, roughly 917 millions of whom speak Chinese Mandarin. In addition, China has a huge diaspora found in almost every country in the world. This presents learners with a huge pool of people with whom to practise the world’s most common language (also known as 普通话 Putonghua) with[2]. By engaging with the Chinese speaking community, you have the opportunity to make a whole new group of friends and enrich your understanding of Chinese culture.

Design thinking

Every language presents its own ‘exception to the rule’ and challenges.  Pronunciation in English can be idiosyncratic, grammar is one of the terrifying aspects of many European languages and the non-alphabetic nature of the Chinese writing system does come across as alien for many. But in reality, we are far more apt at using non-alphabetic language in our communication than you. Learning a language that has no overlap with one’s own, in my view is what makes learning more interesting and fun.

The real beauty of the Chinese language is revealed in the writing – in the structure of the thousands of Chinese characters. There is a system to their design and understanding the thinking makes it much easier to learn new characters.

If you prepared to approach learning Chinese characters like you would design thinking, then learning to read and write Chinese is far less daunting and will give you a lifetime of intellectual stimulation.

The Language of the Internet

In this digital age, information is capital and power is influence.  There is no denying that English is dominating language of the internet. But with changing economics and geopolitics, the Chinese share of the cyberspace has ballooned at great speed, and Chinese Mandarin is now pushed into the top 3 languages online[3]. So, for aspiring influencers and content creators, learning Mandarin Chinese is one way to position yourself to tap into the wider world of China’s 网红 wǎng hóng and key opinion leaders (KOLs). There is an entire parallel Chinese-language online space out there, instead of Facebook or WhatsApp there is WeChat, whatever your favourite apps and sites are there will be Chinese alternatives. As Bill Gate once said, ‘the internet is becoming the new town square for the global village of tomorrow’. In today’s world, Chinese fluency is the key to having a voice in the global digital village.

[1] “China Population (2020) – Worldometer.” https://www.worldometers.info/world-population/china-population/. Accessed 16 Oct. 2020.

[2] “The 10 Most Common Languages – Accredited Language ….” 9 Jan. 2019, https://www.accreditedlanguage.com/languages/the-10-most-common-languages/. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

[3] “Top Ten Internet Languages in The World – Internet Statistics.” 31 Mar. 2020, https://www.internetworldstats.com/stats7.htm. Accessed 15 Oct. 2020.

Author

Maggie Sproule

Maggie Sproule is a principal teacher of Mandarin at George Watson’s College in Edinburgh and currently on secondment as the Swire Fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Moray House School of Education. She is committed to supporting educational aspiration, ambition and inclusion.

She wants to give pupils of all backgrounds and levels of ability the opportunity to study Mandarin Chinese as a core part of their school curriculum with clear progression and pathways to qualifications.

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