Chinese, Mandarin Chinese, foreign languages taught at school

NY Times Article: Foreign Languages Fade EXCEPT Chinese…

Chinese Language Popular at Schools

A Mom Friend at my elementary school sent me this article and asked me to comment on it for my blog. She speaks Chinese and French and wants to start her children on both languages as well. I believe deeply that this generation of children must learn two foreign languages if they are to play a part in this new global economy and that, sadly, the United States, is and will no longer be at the epicenter of the world.

I have heard that at our public high school, the college counselors are telling the high school students that top colleges want to see fluency in TWO foreign languages. Then at work, the other day, I had a long conversation with a colleague at work whose husband is Finnish; he speaks 3 languages AND English. We were saying that everywhere else in the world, it’s NORMAL to learn two other languages. And I was at another dinner at Bentley College for folks who teach entrepreneurship at business schools, and these two professors from the Middle East who work in the U.K. spoke an amazing 7-9 languages. And I made them explain exactly how and when they learned them. (Secret: they start early and keep adding).

But I am also remembering that when I was in college in the 1980’s, there was a wave of urgency for everyone to learn Russian. But then the Soviet Union disintegrated and no one cared about the Russian language anymore. Does anyone remember that? And then there was this wave when everyone wanted to either teach English in Japan or learn Japanese about a decade later when I was in graduate school. I myself started taking Japanese lessons after a short stint in Japan.

But, I do believe that as far as I can see, it’s probably prudent to learn Chinese. It is never a disadvantage in life or in one’s career to speak another language. AND it’s a tough language, so if you really want to be able to speak it with some proficiency, you better start early in order toto nail the pronunciation (tonal language; 4 tones so each tone is a different word even though the letter sound is the same). My Chinese tutor tells me, as I do not speak Mandarin Chinese, that while there is a lot of vocabulary, there is very little grammar. Once you have the pronunciation conquered and learn an immense amount of vocabulary (plus characters; one for each word!), it’s all downhill!

I also have my kids learning Spanish. It’s much easier to pronounce the words though we are struggling to roll our “r’s.” It’s actually the opposite of Chinese in my mind; there isn’t as many vocabulary words as English, but the grammar, particularly those pesky irregular verbs, is enough to make you crazy! As I see it, if you can speak English, Chinese and Spanish, you are covering a large chunk of the world.

Just add a little Farsi, and you are good to go! Here’s my schedule. English: as a baby Spanish: as a toddler/preschooler through high school Chinese: as an elementary schooler through high school Farsi: in college If you are inspired to start introducing foreign languages to your children, I have a blog entry on the products I use. Here is the link to the article which is about how America may be cutting back on Foreign Language instruction, but there is a surge of interest in Mandarin Chinese.

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By Mia Wenjen, PragmaticMom

1 Comment

  1. Cecilia

    Thank you for this post! I recently enrolled my 5 year old in a Chinese program – this would be his 3rd language – with some guilt since he is very interested in Mandarin but at the same time prefers to play. I told myself to stay strong and to have him continue as long as he is showing interest and doing okay. Maybe I am doing the right thing.

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