A while ago I was sitting at my desk reminiscing on my very first trip to China, more specifically, I remember sitting on the plane and looking at a pamphlet written in Chinese characters, I remember thinking to myself how utterly incomprehensible all those little mini-pictures looked squashed together like that in one long line with no spaces in-between. I wondered how people could possibly use them to string a sentence together. At that time I had no real inkling of studying the language itself, in my mind, like most people, I thought that studying such a foreign language would surely be an insurmountable task.
Fast forward to a few weeks into my first trip, I had made many friends, I’m ashamed to say that most of them were foreign travellers like me, but unlike me nearly all the people I met had come over to China after studying Chinese language and culture for many years. This really surprised me as I had never even considered Chinese as something you could fill a whole degree program with, how wrong I was! After spending time with people who had devoted many years of their lives to learning not just the language but also the customs, traditions, history and culture of China and the Chinese people my eyes slowly opened in wonder to all the wonderful things around me and I started to truly comprehend how much there was to learn about that fascinating place.
I learnt how opening your eyes, mind and heart to the red dragon of the east could be so much more than just a hobby, China is brimming with opportunity. It may seem like there must be lots of trade going on already between the UK and China, but in fact, it’s smaller than what you’d expect (source) but boy, is it growing! Nowadays it seems like every single sector of trade, services and manufacturing can be developed towards the Chinese market, and if companies aren’t already focusing on that, then they will be soon (source)
I still remember my many conversations with people who as students, had gone and learnt Mandarin to and advanced level to then go on to having a career using their Mandarin in many different fields. Some were business advisors setting up links between local and Chinese companies, others work in the ever growing tourism sector working with hotels and tour operators to design trips for tour groups, some are business strategists researching the Chinese market and finding ways for UK firms to improve their access to it. What I found interesting was that most, if not all of them had similar answers when I asked them why they chose to study Mandarin at university, and the answer often went along the lines of that as a child, or a teenager, they had some sort of very limited exposure to the far east, for some it was as simple as a movie they might have watched, for others it was a relative who had been there and relayed their experience, but for all of them there had been a spark lit at a young age, something that snagged their interest once, and had been forgotten for years up until the time when they had to make a decision as to what step to take next, and that’s when Mandarin popped back into their heads as a viable opportunity.
It’s for that reason that I think giving kids an exposure to not just the language, but also the culture and traditions of China will serve them so well if nothing but to simply give them one more option to consider when they grow into young adults and decide what to do with their future. So go ahead, sign your little ones up for a Mandarin club while they’re still young, and who knows what seeds will be planted in their young brains, and what wonderful opportunities those seeds will flower into one day!