When thinking about difficult languages to learn, Mandarin often tops the list. It’s tonal, uses confusing characters, and has little in common with any language in the Western World. Why would you choose to learn it unless you had to? There are plenty of reasons, it turns out. In fact, it may be the most important language you could learn.
There are some serious benefits to learning Mandarin that make it one of the best languages to learn. Read on to learn why you should take on the language of China.
So, Why Should I learn Mandarin Chinese, Really?
1. It Has the Most Native Speakers of Any Language
This fact is hard to ignore when looking at Mandarin Chinese. More people speak the language as a mother tongue than any other, and it’s the second most spoken language in the world with over 1 billion speakers. If you already speak English and decide to learn Mandarin, you’ll be able to communicate with a major portion of the world’s population.
In fact, there are more speakers of English and Mandarin than the next seven most spoken languages combined. There’s something special about being able to use the same language as billions of other people on the planet. If speaking languages is all about communication in the end, wouldn’t you want to learn the languages that enable you to communicate with the most possible people?
2. Stand Out from the Crowd
There are two major factors that make Mandarin speakers stand out from others: Mandarin is perceived as very difficult to learn, and Mandarin is spoken by over one billion people, making it desirable skill in many different fields.
Whether it’s at a dinner party, on a CV, or on an application to an academic institution, proficiency in Mandarin looks good. It shows intelligence, because the language is notoriously difficult to learn and because learning any language takes discipline, focus, and commitment.
It’s also a desirable skill in the eyes of many because Mandarin is useful in many contexts. China is the world’s most populous country, and its economy is a major player on the global scale. Business opportunities are plentiful in China, and they’re mostly conducted in Mandarin. The ability to communicate in the language has the possibility to open many doors professionally, academically, and personally.
3. Visit China
In addition to being a skill that could help you in your professional life, learning Mandarin can create some exciting opportunities for enjoying life as well. Chinese civilization is one of the oldest on the planet, dating back more than 5,000 years, and this helps make for an incredibly rich culture. Visiting China is like visiting no other place on Earth.
Whether it’s for the countless natural beauties, the world-famous cuisine that varies by each region, the ancient cities, to learn about a new culture, or for any other reason, there’s no limit to the good that can come from a chance to get to know China. The experiences you’ll have in China, however, will be drastically different if you are able to speak and understand Mandarin.
China’s population is massive, and less than 1% of that population is able to speak English well. If you visit the country and don’t speak a word of Mandarin, it means you’ll rely heavily on translation apps, sign language, and the tourism industry. This doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a trip to China without speaking the local language, but it does mean there’s potential for a much deeper experience if you do.
Being able to speak Mandarin in China will make it much easier to navigate the country. Ordering food, getting directions, asking questions about the world around you, and meeting people will become infinitely easier.
You’ll also get glimpses into life in China by speaking Mandarin that you otherwise wouldn’t be allowed. Understanding what the people around you are talking about or striking up a conversation with the man selling you dumplings will provide opportunities for learning about what life is really like in the area.
4. Connect With New People
One of the most positive ways learning a new language can impact our lives is by allowing us to connect with other people. It’s especially valuable because it allows you to connect with people that come from different backgrounds and can equip you with a better understanding of the world.
Since Mandarin is known to be a difficult language to learn, it isn’t common for tourists that visit China to make much of an effort. One of the results of this is that any foreigner that has a good grasp of the language will immediately stand out. In fact, it’s something of a novelty for many Chinese people to see a foreigner speaking their language — especially if they can do it well.
With some Mandarin skills under your belt, you’ll have a much easier time making genuine connections with the Chinese population if you visit the country. Not only will you stand out for being one of the few tourists that can speak the language, it also shows a certain amount of respect and cultural awareness when you can speak the local language.
Even outside of China, the ability to speak Mandarin can offer opportunities to make friends and connect with people. Many cities around the world have a “china town” area where three are many Mandarin speakers, and sharing a common language outside of China will give you something to bond over right away.
You’ll also have the chance to make connections with other learners of the language. Since it isn’t an easy one to learn and it takes dedication, bonding over the journey to Mandarin fluency is a fantastic ingredient for friendship.
5. Interact with Chinese Culture
Chinese culture spans millennia and is famous across the globe for being complex, influential, unique, and beautiful. There’s no better way to approach a thorough understanding and appreciation of this culture than by starting with the language.
By learning Mandarin, you’ll be able to appreciate Chinese art, novels, movies, music, TV series, and historical texts in their original forms instead of relying on translations. This can make a big difference in the impact a piece of art has on the consumer.
While many people may focus on China’s rich history when they think about the country’s culture, there are plenty of modern cultural exports that are enjoyed all over the world. Chinese cinema, for example, contains some highly interesting content for film lovers. The film industry dates back to the early twentieth century in China, and the 1930s are considered to be the country’s golden age of cinema.
There are also plenty of binge-worthy television programs in Mandarin, known as C-dramas, that are constantly rolling out new episodes. As well as enjoyable insights into Chinese culture, these shows can make for an entertaining way to practice the language.
For those that prefer reading, Chinese literature has thousands of years of material to offer. Works in the country’s literature range every genre and are bound to include something that interests anyone who enjoys the written word. If you’ve never enjoyed literature written with logograms like Chinese, it is a singular experience.
6. Learn Other Asian Languages More Easily
For the aspiring polyglot, learning Mandarin can have extra advantages. Since it’s a tonal language, uses logograms, and doesn’t share much vocabulary with English, learning the language will equip you with a totally new set of language skills. These skills can be applied to learning other languages, and you’ll pick up methods and tricks that work well for you if it’s the first foreign language you’ve studied.
If you decide to take on Japanese after learning Mandarin, you’ll have a much easier time learning to read and write than other learners. This is because Japanese kanji is based on Chinese characters.
If you pick up Thai, Vietnamese, Cantonese, or any other tonal language after Mandarin, you’ll have a major head start if you’re already comfortable in one other tonal language. While the tones won’t be the same, the act of thinking about tones while speaking and the ability to hear them are things that take practice.
7. It’s Not as Hard as You Might Think
Mandarin has a formidable reputation, and it isn’t without reason. The language is very different from English, uses tones, and requires learning a complicated and immense writing system. Knowing this, it’s easy to make the mistake of believing it’s impossible to learn. But that’s just not the case. The truth is that you should be able to produce a decent number of basic, useful phrases after just a week or two of practice.
Studying a foreign grammar system can be one of the trickiest aspects of picking up a new language. With Mandarin, however, grammar will be the least of your worries. You won’t have to worry about conjugating verbs for different tenses, and you won’t need to worry about grammatical gender or noun and adjective declension.
Another reason learning Mandarin could be easier than you expect is that there are tons of resources available for those interested in learning the language. Since it’s spoken by so many people in the world, there’s no shortage of tutors, language exchange partners, and apps created for the Mandarin learner.
8. Strengthen Your Mind
This is something that’s true for someone who takes the time to learn any new language, but there’s even more benefit if that language is Mandarin.
Studies show that learning a new language is unquestionably good for your brain. You’ll make new neural connections, begin to understand the world with new perspective, and even learn to formulate your thoughts in new ways. This has the effect of improving overall cognitive function and can delay the onset of mental deterioration caused by aging.
What makes Mandarin special in this regard is that learning it actually recruits more parts of your brain than other languages. This is especially true for English speakers, as there aren’t many similarities between the two languages. Basically, learning Mandarin is an excellent workout for your brain.