Mandarin for babies and tots — The Bump
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Mandarin for babies and tots

I've noticed this is all the rage at local day cares, pre schools, etc. Our school district even has an immersion program where education is 50/50 English/Chinese, k through high school. I know this language is very difficult to master, and I'm not sure how practical this is. I work with china frequently in the course of my work and my colleagues all speak great English. I think they'd look at someone trying to communicate in broken Mandarin with much amusement. I guess I am wondering what is driving this sudden popularity. I totally understand offering a lot of choices to include chinese, but the schools I talked to were heavily promoting this and not even offering options for languages like Spanish. My best friend was born in China and thinks it is hilarious. She hasn't mastered the language even though her mom speaks it to hear almost daily. She can understand but not speak or write. She thinks once a week Mandarin lessons for a one to three year old won't do much. What are everyone's thoughts?

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Re: Mandarin for babies and tots

  • On one hand, I want to say learning any language for the sake of learning is beneficial. But Mandarin? Definitely not the language I would pick. It's hard to learn, difficult to practice in day to day situations (unless there happens to be a large Mandarin-speaking population near you), mastery is unlikely, and even with a decent grip of the language, like you said, it's not a business advantage even in the small chance a student ended up doing business in China. Why the push? I guess it sounds impressive.

    Spanish? Yes, yes, yes. Sign my kid up for classes, immersion programs, all of it. Here in Texas becoming fluent or semi-fluent in Spanish is 1. not that hard 2. easy to practice and 3. useful for nearly any job or occupation.
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  • If Spanish was offered, I would take that option. Much more practical in my opinion.
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  • jlaOKjlaOK member
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    While I do think that teaching a second language could be beneficial I don't think that offering it as an extra curricular in pre-k does anything more than make that school sound prestigious.  I took Spanish for 10 years and have a bilingual parent and can't speak a lick of it.  Unfortunate too because it is something that would have helped me in my career.
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  • ss265ss265 member
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    I grew up in a Mandarin speaking country (I am not Chinese) and can usually follow conversations in Mandarin because I just got used to hearing it all around me. That being said, it is an extremely difficult language to read and write because you have to memorize all the characters/words, not to mention distinguish between the various tones. I really don't think it's practical to teach it here because unless you live in a predominantly Mandarin speaking area or have at least one parent who is well versed in it, you are not going to be proficient in it. I also don't think you need to learn it to do business in Asia - a friend of mine moved to Taipei for work and she gets by even though she doesn't speak Mandarin.

    Schools who do this are likely just trying to set themselves apart by offering a language that isn't commonly offered at other schools. Or maybe they are trying to attract more Chinese parents.


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  • In our city, there is one magnet school that does immersion Mandarin and one that does immersion Spanish.  There are others too, like a dance magnet.  We live in a suburb that has good schools, but we were told that people from our town try to get into the immersion Mandarin school.  They encourage parents to take classes at night so they can speak with their children, etc. and it all sounds like a lot of work.  The university here is going a big China partnership and there are tons of Chinese students here.  I'm sure you could get practice.  China is emerging as a globally important country and I can imagine that it could be important to learn, even if a lot of people in China speak English.  We know someone who lives in rural China so people can produce his product and I expect he could use some Mandarin.  I feel like it will be hard enough to keep up with professor's kids in our neighborhood school and elementary school is a little early to deal with some of the rough issues that come with urban schools, if you don't have to.  Plus, my own preference would be to speak Spanish to work with populations in this country and really would never see myself as a global business person, although I do a lot of disease work in other countries.  I guess I can't predict what my kids will want to do, and I would love to develop the part of their brains that learns language when it's still malleable, but I don't think we'll choose one of these magnet schools.
  • The only benefit that I can really see is supposedly if you do not hear certain tones before the age of three, it is almost impossible for you learn them later. This is why some non-native English speakers have issues with 'R' for example. Or when I was China, apparently I could not master Xi Xi, whatever sound was correct I was not producing it.

    I would be ok with some exposure, but if language was a big deal for me I would have my kids start really trying to learn a love language first. It seems to me that the people I know who are bi-lingual pick up additional language much easier.

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  • Lurker here jumping in...

    We are about to start DS in a Daycare that offers Mandarin now and they start very young - as soon as the children get out of the infant room. When I questioned them on choice of language they said they change it up every few years and have done Spanish most often.

    It does sound pretentious - and truthfully if my 2 year old learned proper English I would be happy -  but second languages of any kind are fine by me.
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  • flclflcl member
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    I agree with PPs that this may be something to help the school sound more prestigious.  While learning another language has its benefits, I'm not sure learning Mandarin will help much, especially if you don't know the language.  I grew up with Mandarin and I can barely speak it now that I'm no longer living with my parents.  It's a really tough language to learn and maintain if you're not speaking it regularly.  

    While you may run into those who will snicker and laugh, I've learned most people in other countries appreciate you trying to speak their language.
  • When I was in the Bay Area, I was working at a nature center and most of the classes we had visit had a decent Spanish-speaking set of students in their classes.  The teachers spoke to these kids in Spanish, but always addressed the class in English.  But these kids often did not know English at all--perhaps they were recent additions--and I thought then that I would not be able to be a teacher in the Bay Area if I did not know Spanish.  I'm sure some neighborhoods and suburbs require other languages instead.

    I know many Africans and some people from other places who speak 10 languages or so.  I surely could not pick up 10 languages now, so I do think early language acquisition as well as developing language acquisition skills at an early age are both key.  If a nanny or daycare can do that, it seems good, as long as there aren't major trade-offs or my kid hates it.  I do not think it is the most important thing--just something neat. 
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