Importance of Starting Early
Most experts agree that the earlier a child is introduced to a second language, the greater the chances are that the child will become truly proficient in the language.
Each Mandarin Chinese syllable has four tones that could mean different things. For example, "ma" in first tone means "mother," while in third tone means "horse." Very young children, because their brains are in a perpetual search for knowledge, and because they can mimic and copy sounds much easier than older children, find it much easier to learn Mandarin Chinese's four-tone system.
The renowned Swiss psychologist and educator Jean Piaget states that at the toddler and early childhood stage, the main focus of the child's intellectual development is language and using words and pictures to represent ideas and objects. Parents and teachers, he urged, should therefore use and take advantage of these characteristics to help the child learn. At Mencius Mandarin Preschool, we want to provide a classroom setting in which the learning of Mandarin Chinese is solidified not only through formal instructions but also through social interaction with teachers and peers.
According to Mary Ann Hansen of Connecticut state's Department of Education, the number of students, most non-Asian, studying Mandarin Chinese in about 16 public schools have seen a dramatic 10-fold increase just from 2004 to 20061. As more Connecticut public schools offer formal Mandarin Chinese classes at elementary and higher school levels, graduates of Mencius Mandarin Preschool will find themselves working with material already familiar to them. This should enhance their chances of achieving full fluency as adults.
In some places, such as UK's Brighton College, Mandarin Chinese has become mandatory in its nursery program for three-year-olds. Further underscoring the importance of starting early, Richard Cairns of the College says, "The Mandarin Chinese teachers have said that if they had them [the students] when they were three, four, five, they could get them speaking fluently." 21 Winnie Hu, "Non-Asians Show a Growing Interest in Chinese Courses," The New York Times, November 29, 2006.
2 Damian Whitworth, "Three-Year-Old Tots Take a Great Leap Forward," Times Online, February 12, 2007.