About ten years ago, I received my first introduction to Mandarin Chinese. Although it has been a difficult path of study and there is much left for me to learn, I vividly remember a scene from my first day of Mandarin lessons which has stayed with me and inspired me to continue. I had just arrived in Tianjin, China, to begin student teaching at Tianjin International School and received the opportunity to take Mandarin Chinese lessons. I remember walking into the school’s Chinese Language Center, my head full of the new lessons I was teaching, my heart stressed from culture shock and being a world apart from family, and my hands carrying my new Chinese textbook. In only a few moments I would meet my Chinese teacher, learn a flurry of new words, and embark on a course of study that has continued to the present day. Before I did, however, I caught a glimpse of a quiet scene through the office window: my soon-to-be-teacher, an older Chinese woman, was sitting at her desk, serenely looking at the blank wall in front of her, having just set down a warm glass, in which several curled green tea leaves were gently falling and rising, slowly swirling. Before the demands of the day and teaching a brand new student, she was taking time to savor her country’s drink.
Several Years Later
After returning to America to graduate, I had the opportunity to go back to Tianjin, China and teach Secondary Social Studies at the same international school for several years (this time married, to a girl from California whom I had met at the school during my time student teaching). In addition to my teaching responsibilities, I loved my daily study of Mandarin Chinese. But it has been four years since I returned from China, and I have been wondering how I would keep up my knowledge of Mandarin. Would it just slip away and disappear like a slowly ebbing dream? Thankfully not, for in addition to providing employment at The Cambridge School as the fifth grade teacher, God has also provided me an opportunity to keep my Mandarin alive by allowing me to assist the Chinese teachers and serve the student and parent community in their study of Mandarin. I am excited to be involved, as well as provide points of integration between Chinese language, culture, and history and The Cambridge School curriculum. So, to that end, and having studied Chinese myself and wrestled with the questions of why one should study such a difficult language, I would like to share some reasons why I think learning Mandarin is important.
Why Should One Study Chinese?
This is not a definitive list by any means but there are several reasons why I think Americans, especially people in Southern California and in this community, should study Chinese.
1. China’s growing influence in the world.
China is the most populous nation in the world, with over 1.3 billion people and has one of the fastest growing economies in the world. Although historically China was more isolated, in an increasingly globalized world and economy, China’s growth and influence should make Americans desire to take more note of it and perhaps learn something of its language in order to engage its thought, culture, and markets.
2. Alongside English, Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world.
Mandarin Chinese, which is the northern Chinese dialect in China, has long been taught in schools throughout China as the putong hua, the common language, and medium of spoken communication for all Chinese people.
Many learn Spanish in order to understand the culture of and communicate with people of Hispanic heritage in America; the same can be applied to those of Chinese heritage. Especially for those living in California and San Diego, an extremely diverse state and city historically home to many Chinese immigrants, there are many opportunities for interaction with people of Chinese heritage; one may often hear Chinese spoken in this area.
3. It exposes you to tonal languages and traditional eastern thought.
Just as knowing Latin provides a key to unlock the learning of several other western languages (Spanish, Italian, French, Portuguese, etc.) and classical western learning itself, so knowing Chinese provides a key to unlock the learning of several other eastern languages which have borrowed from it (Korean, Japanese, etc.) and classical eastern learning itself.
For these reasons and many more unlisted, I believe Mandarin Chinese is a valuable language to learn and an appropriate complement to Latin in the language program. I am excited to be here and use what experience my time in China has provided to benefit The Cambridge School’s Mandarin program.