When families begin learning about our program, they often ask us the same question: “Why do we teach Mandarin to kindergartners?"
The simple answer is, Mandarin provides early learners with the opportunity to engage both sides of their brains.
Mandarin is a tonal language. This means that the same word can have multiple different meanings depending on the tone. Students of the language must attend to both the basic sound as well as the tone in order to understand a word.
The difference in brain activity between Mandarin and English speakers is well documented in scientific research. Most recently, The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America, published a study that outlined the specific differences in brain activity between speakers of tonal and non-tonal languages. The results demonstrated that while speech processing is largely carried out in the “common left hemisphere,” Mandarin speakers activate an additional sector of their brain called the “right anterior temporal cortex,” which is crucial in recognizing differences in tone. Learning to speak a tonal language means that one must exercise this connection between the left and right hemispheres of the brain in order to improve their tonal comprehension abilities.
Additionally, Mandarin’s use of written characters for each word rather than an alphabet provides students with visual and artistic stimulation. Introducing Mandarin at an early age promotes the development of interdisciplinary thought and analysis, enabling the students to draw connections between their lessons from different subjects.
Mandarin instruction at BASIS Curriculum Schools employs a variety of teaching techniques for accessing different styles of learning. For example, because tone is so important when speaking Mandarin, students often use music and song to practice their speaking skills. Through a variety of teaching methods and instructional media, students rapidly improve their conversational Mandarin abilities.
While Mandarin may not be as prevalent in the United States as a language such as Spanish, students still have many chances to apply their language skills. The Head of School at BASIS Independent Brooklyn, Hadley Ruggles, remembers a time when a BASIS Parent described seeing their child's Mandarin knowledge firsthand:
"‘We love BASIS, we love the program but we never understood Mandarin ... until we were walking around Chinatown and encountered a vendor we wanted to do business with, but he spoke no English. Then our son started negotiating with him in Mandarin and pretty soon they were having a conversation.’”
While this type of rapid development mostly applies to non-native speakers of Mandarin or other tonal languages, the positive effects of teaching Mandarin in the early years have been demonstrated at each BASIS Curriculum School.