The Best Way To Teach Mandarin?

20 May

How hard is it to actually learn Mandarin? Personal content, structured to make sense to individuals rather than students in general, does not have to be expensive; especially in light of how much time it can save someone wanting to learn Mandarin.

To learn Mandarin is not easy, but it is not as hard as they say. The “they” that I refer to say that “it is near impossible”, so this may not be a great measuring tool. Luckily, they have almost invariably never tried out of fear that obstacles to success are too difficult to get passed. As for the people that do try, they find that just as with any other obstacle they will encounter in life. It is merely a geological matter; even mountains will move with pressure and time. But as any engineer can tell you, there are good and bad ways to negotiate a mountain. You can try to move the whole thing. Or you can surgically target the section of the mountain that suit your objectives most, and tunnel through it.

The mountain analogy rather breaks down after that simile. However, the argument does not. The reason that it is better to tunnel through the mountain rather than try to move the whole thing is that once you have made one tunnel, making the next one is easier. What I mean when I write tunnel here is of course a specific set of words, rather than tackling the entire language at once, which would be like moving a mountain – which is indeed almost impossible. Of course no one will ever hand you a dictionary and try to pass if off as a good mandarin curriculum, however, what most schools will do is have only one well though through curriculum. If we are searching for the optimal way of learning mandarin, in order to disprove “them”, those that say that learning Mandarin is very very difficult, this way of studying Chinese is not it.

It makes a lot of sense that a curriculum made to suit thousands student wont be an exact match for anyone. The best way would be to tailor made each students curriculum in order for it to suit them perfectly. What would such a process involve then?

Well, for starters it would rank the interest of the student, not in terms of the final objectives of the student’s mandarin studies, but in terms of usability. What words will the student need to use sooner than others? Lets go with hobbies on this one, though it may not necessarily be the case that this is what matter most in the students daily life – it may be a young professional that we are dealing with, for example.

Say that Christopher enjoy diving – should we not then teach him diving terminology rather than how he can find the way to a library (a favorite of most textbooks – I guess the imagine that most students are heading there most of the time…). He could go off, dive, enjoy himself while practicing not only the terminology we just taught him but also the basic grammar and vocabulary that he needs in order to use that terminology.

Of course this way of teaching would be hugely expensive, too pricy for most people right? They would have to tailor the class material to each student individually. Or would it? What if the school would instead just form a basic structure of this extra vocabulary that would suit most types of words and then just tailor the words to each student? Sure, it would be pricier than just print 1000 textbooks with the same content. But if the difference between plan A and B is having perfect content, or at least optimal content, surgically targeting the heart of a students ambitions, would it not be worth it?

If we consider the time students spend learning Mandarin as a factor I would think that the Plan B is rather cheap. If a student is learning Mandarin to live in China then they probably want to be able to have the same hobbies as back home, getting to that point by scrambling seemingly randomly, for the intents and purposes of going diving, one would probably be at it for a couple of years. If personalized content reduced that time up on that mountain by so much time then paying a bit more really is an economical choice. A choice that, if it was more publicized more, may very well reverse the notion that “they” have. No one will tell you it is easy to learn Mandarin, but if they are saying that it’s near impossible, they are lying. Personalized content is a great way to tackle Mandarin.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin, the lingua franca of the growing economic powerhouse. See the program overview page for more information about learning Mandarin in China.

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