In the winter of 2016, I visited Rome for the first time. It took me a bit of effort to locate the flat I booked online. I eventually knocked the door open and started to feel excited about my authentic Italian dinner. A 70ish old Italian opened the door and questioned me in Mandarin “你怎么才来？我等你很久了” which means ‘What took you so long? I have been waiting for you’. And of course, I had a great time in Rome with this unplanned Mandarin-speaking-grandpa-guide! My newly-found acquaintance with this lovely host was a delightful surprise. Now, thinking back, I believe the joy of communicating in a foreign language to express and to be understood is one of the most beautiful gifts we can give to our beloved children.
But why should children choose to learn Mandarin? We don’t need to overthink the brilliant granddaughter of Trump singing Chinese songs during the Chinese state visit. Or the celebrities who shock the audience with an opening speech in Chinese like Mark Zuckerberg. Learning Chinese is simply a fun experience for children!
It is the only surviving pictographic language system, which is mentally stimulating to children. Many Chinese characters (which we call Hanzi) were initially pictures and it is still the case that most of the modern, simplified characters are associated with their origins (see picture one). Also, learning a new Hanzi can be tremendously simple. Here is an example. The Hanzi ‘木’ is ‘wood’, ‘林’ is ‘woods’ and ‘森’ is ‘forest’. Now you have learned three characters just by the look of them! To children, it would be more like taking art classes rather than language classes – because nowadays many learning materials take on this great feature of Hanzi to ensure the best visual effect, such as the flash card collection in my store. It is designed for children from one to seven years old to learn 160 Hanzi characters and 320 words from vivid oracle bone scripts used by Shang dynasty Chinese back to 3600 years ago.
Chinese Oracle Bones Inspired Flashcards
Besides language itself, the rich Chinese culture is another great attraction to learning the Mandarin Chinese language. By saying that, I don’t mean to be jingoistic about it but to draw attention to the fascinating interaction Chinese culture has with other different cultures. Did you know that in a historic cave (in about 538-539AD) in China, Helios and Selene are depicted in a ceiling that is next to the other one where the Chinese god of the sun (伏羲 fu xi) and goddess of the moon (女娲nü wa) can be found? In both cultures they are brother and sister of each other as well!
Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province, China with a history of 1000 years
Did you also know that in ancient China golf, polo and football (ancient versions) were so popular that even the Chinese emperors couldn’t resist joining in? Bengali poet Tagore’s literature is highly regarded in modern China. International Women’s Day is celebrated by allowing Chinese female staff half a day holiday.
A young visitor in sculptures exhibition ‘Sports from Ancient Murals’ in Shanxi Province, China, 2019
There are just a lot of fun facts to learn and to build an additional layer of viewpoints for children to be more flexible with people who are thought to be different from them.
After all, this world would benefit from our children co-existing and collaborating more than ever before. Celebrating diversity in human civilisation by learning a foreign language is a good step and choosing Mandarin can be rewarding.