Why Learn Mandarin – A Reason You Haven’t Yet Heard

20 May

There are a host of reasons that are often mentioned when it comes to studying Mandarin. Here is one that you may have missed.

There are many reasons to learn a language like Mandarin. Chinas economy is booming for one. China is an incredibly different culture and Mandarin holds the key to exploring China on its own terms (for a second). One reason that is seldom mentioned is the effect a new language can have on a person’s way of thinking. The argument goes something like this: the way we think is inherently linked to language, our thoughts are defined by the vocabulary that we know – the greater the scope and depth of our linguistic capabilities, the more complex and deep ideas can be articulated in our minds and to others. By learning more words within our mother tongue we can enhance our ability to analyze and understand the world around us. By learning words in a foreign language this effect can be increased many times over as the ideas and relationships described by an alien tongue are more different than those we have encountered in our own. I will now try to expand and exemplify this reasoning further and then explain how different Mandarin actually is from those languages that are derived from the Latin and Germanic branches of languages.

If we map every possible idea that we can have in the form of a circle we can visually explore how these ideas can be best thought of. In the center of the circle we put the absolute most basic ideas. The idea that eating solves the problem of hunger might be the idea at the very center. As we progress outwards in all directions ideas get more complicated. At the fringe of the circle we can probably find the general theory of relativity, slightly closer to the perimeter we would plot the special theory of relativity (which Einstein said only 6 of his contemporary people could understand) and at the very perimeter we have ideas no one has thought of yet. If a person understands complicated statistics and mathematics it would be much easier for them to learn Economics (for example) than if they did not. Therefore Economics should be placed between the areas that represent math and statistics. If one connects the dots of cyclical relationships in math (the sinus and co sinus curves are examples of this) and some basic statistical analysis of how the economy has fared over the last century, one would thought of the business cycle (for example) – which was exactly how that idea was modeled in the first place.

Now that we have that picture in mind: a great circle which represents every idea there is, and we have that example of how two dots were connected to create a new realization (there are natural periods of strong and weak growth in the economy) we can conclude this; if we can gain access to dots far from the ones we already have firmly in our mind, really great new concepts can be arrived at. What do we get if we mix a few art dots with a few dots pertaining to how people assimilate information? We probably invent typography, web design and newspaper layout in one fell swoop.

To learn Mandarin you are not only required to assimilate a host of new vocabulary and some grammar – you actually need to completely rethink the idea of language. Conceptually, both verbal and written Mandarin communication is foreign in ways that you are probably not able to imagine without studying Mandarin or another Asian language (which uses tones to differentiate between meanings and symbols to represent words (as opposed to an alphabet)). If you could increase your ability to think by learning more native words, and even more so by learning a new language like French or German, your brain is in for an absolute firework display of explosively colorful possibilities when you sit down and put some effort into Mandarin. This may not seem as reason enough to learn a complicated language. But coupled with the employment and cultural aspects that I started this article of with, it is one major kicker that can hardly be overstated in the context of added bonuses to learning a new language.

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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