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Early Language Learning: Mandarin

Benefits of Early Language Learning

Learning a second language early in life has proven beneficial for children's cognitive development. Children who learn a foreign language earlier on develop specific cognitive advantages over children who only know their inherited language. A Canadian research study suggests that bilingual children develop the understanding of object permanence at an earlier age than those who only know their native tongue. Object permanence refers to the ability to recognize that an object remains the same, even if it cannot be seen or otherwise sensed.

In addition, knowing a foreign language enables children to harness their cognitive problem-solving abilities outside of their linguistic roots. Studies have continuously proven that learning a foreign language increases critical thinking skills, free-thinking, creativity, and mental flexibility in children of all ages. Bilingual students tend to outscore their non-foreign-language peers on the math sections of standardized tests. Therefore, bilingual students have the cognitive advantage of increasing overall computation skills.

Mandarin

Statistically, the Mandarin language has more native speakers than any other language worldwide, and remains an influential language for Chinese diaspora communities across the world. 720 million people in China-- roughly seventy percent of the total population-- speak some variation of Mandarin. Populations stretching from the mainland to the extreme southwest of Manchuria, and along the east coast, north of Shanghai, fluently speak and write in Mandarin. In addition, Mandarin speakers have trickled outside of China into other foreign countries, such as Taiwan, Singapore, Indonesia, Russia, the United States, Vietnam, Brunei, Malaysia, South Africa, Thailand, Cambodia, Magnolia, and Hong Kong. Approximately 885 million people speak Mandarin worldwide.

Children can benefit from learning Mandarin, because over 25% of the world's population speaks one of the variations of this popularized dialect. Children who speak Mandarin have higher mathematical scores. It may also open a floodgate of opportunity for those seeking international careers, and will assist those who simply want to travel to a foreign land. Chinese proficiency can empower children to explore other avenues unrelated to the confines of their native land. It will also enable children to obtain a higher education. Therefore, bilingual students have a great possibility of making a higher income.

Vocabulary

Consider these simple suggestions before teaching children a foreign language, such as Mandarin. Decide whether the child will learn traditional or simplified Chinese characters. Invest in an all-inclusive program that will teach every aspect of Mandarin, in all of its complex forms. Try to encourage budding relationships between the child and other foreign students. Likewise, introduce Chinese television shows and radio stations, so as to immerse the child in the Mandarin language. Ask the child to practice speaking in front of a mirror to diminish self-consciousness regarding how he or she looks when speaking. Encourage the child to surf on kid-friendly, Chinese-related websites to continue the immersion into the Mandarin language. Lastly, consider taking a family vacation to China (or even a trip to a nearby Chinatown), and avoid English-speaking expatriate circles for total cultural immersion. As a reminder, Mandarin remains the dominant spoken and written language in China; however, other variations exist that may cause confusion for the child if visiting the exotic countryside.

Here are some vocabulary resources you can use with your child at home, to help practice and reinforce learning new words:

Songs

A fun way to introduce children to Mandarin, as well as to further reinforce vocabulary, is to learn simple songs in Mandarin. There are many children's songs that are quite catchy, and can help your little one begin to learn Mandarin. Learning a song in another language can be a fun way for children to practice their newfound vocabulary. When learning these songs, it is important to be able to understand their meanings, so children know what they are saying. Many of these songs include translations to help early language learners to understand the lyrics.

Culture

Apart from the language, Chinese culture remains one of the world's oldest and most complex. In fact, no other culture should satisfy a child's curiosity more than the intricacies of Chinese culture. Chinese culture extends over a large geographical region located in eastern Asia, with customs and traditions varying between each town, metropolitan city, and province. Chinese culture can be observed through a variety of mediums: literature, sports, martial arts, cuisine, music, visual arts, and performing arts. There are many aspects of Chinese culture that children can learn about. What better way to learn a language than to learn about the people, customs, and culture associated with that language?

Books

Books can provide another medium through which to learn a foreign language. There are simple picture books that teach beginning vocabulary. There are also textbooks that can be used to help progress your child's understanding of the Mandarin language. While books can be used as another means of learning new vocabulary, they can also be a wonderful source of learning about the Chinese culture. Children are naturally curious, and learning about a different culture can be a wonderful experience for them. Take your child's learning and inquiring mind beyond the classroom by introducing them to some of these books.