According to the Telegraph, the steady development of China economy in recent decades has increased international attention and global demand for Mandarin speakers. One of the widely accessible places to acquire the language is the network of Confucius Institutes. Located in over 90 countries, the educational centers offer classes for university students and school children of all ages and backgrounds introducing them to the four tones of Mandarin, the hieroglyphs and the cultural traditions.
Below, we shall discuss some aspects of Chinese Mandarin – what stands behind learning the world’s most difficult tongue?
Confucius Institutes Worldwide
Followed by the Chinese political agenda, its language and culture have been intensively promoted through native speaking tutors and international programs. The number of Confucius institutes functioning in co-operation with schools, colleges and universities around the world has grown substantially since their establishment in 2004. With over 400 institutes available today, China plans to open twice as much by 2020.
The major goal is to enable people with little or no background to gain lingual proficiency and enjoy the studying process at the same time. Native speaking instructors are being sent on-site to motivate and support international learners. Another contribution is the “live corners” – spaces where students are purposefully exposed to the natural flow of Chinese Mandarin speech, unbounded by the classroom teaching atmosphere.
Learning Chinese Mandarin in the UK
Confucius Institutes on university campuses allow undergraduates to incorporate Mandarin courses along with their studying schedule. The language centers staff in the UK, just like in the rest of the world, implements flexible education methods with consideration of social and cultural differences. With about 25 Confucius Institutes on campuses and nearly 40 Confucius Classrooms offering Chinese lessons in primary and secondary schools, the non-profit institutes make a convenient and effective way to become a Mandarin speaker.
Apart from memorizing thousands of characters, the hardship lays in the lack of consistent conversational practice: however “live corners” and experience-based learning proved to be an effective solution. So, the students in Confucius Classroom at St Mary Magdalene Academy in London, for example, were taken for an encounter in a nearby Chinese restaurant where they had to order off the menu in Mandarin.
Why Learning Chinese is so difficult
The process of acquiring Chinese Mandarin is particularly challenging for students who are not surrounded by native speakers on a regular basis. On one part, the Mandarin writing system lacks common ground with any of the European languages – it takes effort and dedication to memorize about 2000 characters from scratch: the lowest number required for reading and understanding Chinese contemporary literature. Tones and pronunciation is another topic that requires guided practicing, as some words that sound the same to an English speaker, for example, have absolutely different meanings in Mandarin.
The credit for the growing aspiration to acquire the “tongue of the future” may be mostly given to the high potential of China economic power; businessmen and students who plan to live and work in China realize that mastering the speech and vocabulary is essential. However, compared to European semantics, learning Chinese Mandarin as a second or a third language requires a different approach: the script system, distinctive pronunciation and limited place for verbal practice are the common barriers that challenge even most meticulous learners.