There are many reasons to learn mandarin, and there are many ways to do it. The best way that I have found, and believe me, I have looked around, is a way of studying that directly targets your reason for wanting to learn the language. For example, take my girlfriend. I met her in China, while we were both learning Mandarin. She is a Brazilian movie producer and she had come to China in order to work with film. We were both studying with the same language academy in Beijing at the time. At that academy there was a method they called personal content, which in my mind is the perfect way of tackling a language. Before my girlfriend arrived in China she had given details about why she wanted to learn the language. Together with the admission officer in charge of her application she formulated a new study plan. When she arrived a personal textbook had been created for her that contained all the jargon and terminology of cinematography.
I will now try to outline what I think a good language curriculum is, then I will explain why I think personal content fulfill these criteria perfectly. Finally I will wrap this up by telling you a little about my girl’s experience in China.
A good language curriculum is highly relevant and it is fun. Relevance in this context really only means one thing: you can relate to the content you are learning and therefore you are able to pick it up faster, which makes your studies go much faster. Relevance in education is the ultimate kicker. If a student finds something to be relevant, their mind will gobble up the syntax and vocabulary like it was ice cream and they were a fat kid. I don’t know why it is that relevant material is so important, but the way that our brains are wired just makes it the absolute best way to let someone succeed in mandarin language studies. Example of something that is very relevant to a lot of young western people: how to order a beer, you tell someone how to do it once and they never seem to forget it. Example of something that makes this demographic groups brain go to sleep: how to find their way to the library.
The second aspect, which makes a good curriculum good, is fun. Life is short and learning a language like mandarin takes time for anyone. If you don’t enjoy your studies they will take much longer and you may even give up before you reach your goal.
The reason that Personal content is amazing is that it solves this equation and it does so effortlessly and almost per definition. My girl, who is sitting next to me right now, reading over my shoulder, agrees. Learning Mandarin can be tedious but when you are learning the stuff that is directly relevant to the reason you are learning in the first place, that feeling melts away. Within months of starting studying she was able to on a basic level, do her job increasingly more and more in Chinese as opposed to English. This allowed her to practice the stuff she was learning immediately, but not only that – she was also able to practice the nuts and bolts of the language, the peripheral content that holds together the language. When she said (in Chinese): please pass me the camera, she practiced the terminology of filmmaking but also the grammatical structure of a polite request. Furthermore, part of making something fun is showing a person that they are actually progressing at a satisfactory rate. When you target the stuff that you really need to use later in life this effect is more visible and the rate you re progressing is faster.
All this pretty much makes a curriculum that contains an element of personal content, the very definition of a very good mandarin language curriculum.
About the Author
Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to learn mandarin, the lingua franca of the middle kingdom. See the program overview page for more information about learning Mandarin in China.