Learning Mandarin in Asia: The Economist and Wall Street Journal Discuss

July 12, 2012

Learning Mandarin in Asia - my kids Chinese history, biology and note books

As American parents educating our child in a Mandarin School in Asia, we were quite fascinated by the recent articles in both the Wall Street Journal and The Economist about learning Chinese in Asia and how the passion for it is growing.


Both articles said:

"families are enrolling their children in Mandarin-immersion programs that are springing up from California to Maine. They are hiring tutors, Skyping with teachers in Beijing and recruiting Chinese-speaking nannies. Some are stocking their playrooms with Disney videos in Mandarin—not to mention the iPhone apps aimed at making kids into Mandarin speakers."

As a multilingual language learning family, raising a trilingual kid ( as monolingual parents)  it is interesting to read about other families who are spending time in Asia for Mandarin immersion and their different reasons for and ways of doing it. Obviously, many think it will be an advantage in the future for today's kids.


"Recruiters say Mandarin gives candidates an edge in the job market. "When it comes to Mandarin speakers, we don't have them [in the U.S.], so does it give you a competitive advantage to have it? The answer is yes," says Michael Distefano, a Los Angeles-based senior vice president at executive recruiting firm"


I also found this information from The Economists related recent article, Teaching Chinese - Madarin's Great Leap Forward quite interesting:

"As the Chinese economy surges, so does interest in Mandarin. The Chinese government estimates some 40m people study Mandarin outside the country, up from 30m in 2005. A tight job market in the West is partly responsible."

Only 4% of schools teach Mandarin in America, but corporate customers of Rosetta Stone said that Mandarin learners increased by 1800% between 2008 and 2010.


But I think what was most interesting were the comments, especially in the first Economist article about the challenges of learning reading, writing and speaking in Mandarin at a deep level. This seems to be hard work even for the Chinese! These two different folks ( and many others) seemed to have the same perspective and even Jim Roger's little girl ( who has been speaking Mandarin from birth and goes to a Mandarin school in Singapore) said how hard it all was.

"We feel we have a level of mastery of our own language after 6 years in school (the elementary level) learning it at least 2-3 hours in a day and speak it daily. Why do you as a foreign learner expects to learn it quickly? There is no shortcut."

"I would say, however, that learning to read, and especially to write, takes a lot more time than learning to speak. In Taiwan and China, locals learn to read only by putting in much longer school days than we have in North America, and learn to write only by writing out each character countless times, while also being exposed to them during their long hours spent learning to read."


Our 11 year old Mozart is doing really great in her Mandarin here, comfortable speaking and making good headway with the harder reading and writing and remains at the top of her class ( despite being years younger), but we have recently upped her Mandarin. ( The video above is when she first arrived last year before any immersion). I will give more details about our new challenges ( like her doing physics in Mandarin)  in another post as well as our upcoming trip and immersion in China during her school holidays.

She is working really hard and we are doing all we can to support her. Luckily, she is a very happy kid and enjoying it all and having another sleep over this weekend with her local Chinese BFF here ( who speaks Mandarin, Cantonese and English).

"Not training our kids to be able to work and live in an international environment is like leaving them illiterate" David Boren

Proficiency in face-to-face communication doesn’t imply proficiency in more complex academic language needed in a classroom or in life. The more fluent one is, the more advantageous and that takes TIME and deep immersion, but easiest done in childhood, with many benefits besides the language.


Mandarin Chinese: Learning at home and abroad

Global Citizens = Spanish and Mandarin Immersion

Chinese Tea Ceremony at a Chinese School

Learning Mandarin and Spanish while Traveling the World

Learning Mandarin via Travel Homeschool

What do you think about Mandarin? Is there anything you would like to know more about?

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I have been readying your blog for about a year now. You truly are an inspiration. We currently live in Boston. Our daughter speaks French, English and a little Spanish. She is 8 years old. She is in a French school and we would like to continue this path for another year. In your opinion would 9 be too old of an age to start learning Mandarin. Seems so we weird to call 9 OLD. We are also looking to moving to Europe, Asia or Mexico with my husbands company in June of 2013 so a lot can change. Thank you so much for being such an inspiration and a global thinker.

Jeanne @soultravelers3

Thank you so much for your kind words, Jessica! I am very happy to hear you are enjoying our blog.

I am not an expert on Mandarin, but from all that I have read, language learning is easiest in childhood before puberty.

So, I think 9 would be much better than starting at 20 or 30.

She already has the advantage of being multilingual, so that should also be a help from the studies I have read.

Mandarin writing is especially hard and time consuming and it will take years of immersion to make progress in that area, but the speaking will come fairly easy to her most likely.

If you choose to do the Mandarin, you might want to start introducing it now with some fun things ( videos, songs etc) just to get her use to the sounds and build her confidence and interest...even while you continue with the French.

It is a balancing act to learn and keep up languages, but travel and immersion helps tremendously.

My daughter wants to learn French next, but I want her fluent in Mandarin first as it is harder, so we want her to get it younger.

Since she is so fluent in Spanish, I think French ( and the other Romance languages will be much easier for her).

Keep your daughter's French strong, even while you add the next one. I am sure you already understand that. ;)

The good news is it is all good as language learning as so many benefits besides just learning the language!

Good luck!

Margaret Sch.

I love that phrase, "with many benefits besides the language." So very, very true. Interacting with another language and culture is soul-enriching on so many levels! So cool that you are "part of a trend," but what you are doing is of immense value for your daughter, and that would be true even if she were the only American child doing this. My hats off to all of you forward thinkers!

jeanne @soultravelers3

Soul -enriching indeed Margaret! I was actually surprised to see this described as a growing trend, but you are right, that is not the reason why we do this.

Surely, we hope it supports her life, but even if she never used her Spanish, Mandarin or even Piano and violin in her adult life, I think it all has been very enriching for her foundation on so many levels.

Many scientific studies show the life long benefits even into old age ( prevents dementia) and adds to all problem solving and creativity, but as we both know there are benefits that can't be quantified.


Thank you so much for your reply and advice. I will be in touch again.

Keep up the inspirational life!

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