There are about 6,500 spoken languages in the world today. It’s a surprisingly high number, especially since most of us have only ever heard a few dozen (excluding grandpa’s unintelligible monologue when his teeth are out).
It’s no wonder then that many people choose to steer clear of learning a new language and instead just whip out the dictionary (or Google Translate) in times of dire need. Of course, this method is considerably easier when your native tongue is English which is, primarily due to pop culture and business, a global lingua franca in itself.
But learning a second (or third) language is one of the most beneficial things your child can do. Language, unlike most other types of knowledge, provides not only the technical ability to converse, but also opens up new social pathways, as well as deeper cultural understanding. In this sense, language is not just a tool for communicating, but a way to truly connect with people from other cultures. Naturally, as our teachers have connected with students over English, Lingo Bus by VIPKid was born to bridge international teachers and students once again through language…but this time over Mandarin.
Unsurprisingly, when it comes to the question of: what is the “best” language to learn? there is no real right answer. But there are some ways to think about it that can help guide you. One way is to think of language acquisition as categorized into: Passion, Pertinence, and Potential.
Passion means choosing the language you have a personal passion for. It’s the reason there are avid learners of ancient Latin, the Kxʼa click languages of Southern Africa, or Klingon (yes, the language they speak in Star Trek). These are languages that are generally not practical outside of research, cultural preservation, or personal fascination.
Pertinence means languages that are directly applicable to your life in some way or other. Maybe you’re an expat living in a foreign country and having a real tough time with your gluten-free ordering. Or maybe it’s as simple as your son marrying a Swede and you really wanting to know what is going down at family gatherings. In this context, your reasons for studying a language, or getting your child to study a language, will be wide-ranging and personal.
Potential means studying languages that will likely be important in the future. This is usually considered along economic lines, or shifts in global trends. These languages are typically your big, well-known and widely spoken ones, such as Mandarin (1.1 billion speakers), English (983 million), Hindustani (544 million), Spanish (527 million) or Arabic (422 million), to list just the top five.
In this context, Mandarin is particularly interesting because it’s not only the most widely spoken language in the world, but since China is the second-largest economy (and still growing rapidly) Mandarin stands to become ever more popular in the global dialect. It’s estimated that there are over 50 million people actively studying Mandarin, and in 2010 there were 700,000 non-Chinese speakers that took the Mandarin proficiency test – an increase of over 700% in just 5 years. This is the reason American professional wrestler and actor John Cena is fluent in Mandarin (don’t believe us? YouTube it).
Why are kids the perfect candidates?
The obvious answer is that learning something in your adolescence usually gives you a little more time to use it, than if you were learning it in your nineties say. But for language, there is more to it than that.
Children are especially susceptible to picking up new languages, and they are able to grasp the pronunciation of a second language in a way that is essentially native. Very few adults, no matter how long they study for, are able to sound truly fluent. Some research suggests that this is related to the formation of the child’s facial bone structure as they are developing. As they begin to speak a language, their bones develop to facilitate the words they are trying to pronounce. But when we’re adults, just like we become set in our routines, so do our bones, which prefer to stay the same.
Children are also wildly fascinated with almost everything the world has to throw at them. They are in a stage of continual learning and growth, so when trying to pick up a new language, they are already in full “sponge-mode” making language acquisition a natural part of their daily experience. Adults, on the other hand, can go to extreme lengths to avoid putting more pressure on our already stressed brains.
Lingo Bus and VIPKid
VIPKid began its journey with the simple idea of connecting teachers with students to help Chinese learners effectively study English. Since inception, VIPKid’s model has grown to include tens of thousands of teachers reaching more than 700,000 language learners… and it’s still growing rapidly!
This, of course, led to an obvious next question: what about English-speaking children who want to learn Mandarin?
And so Lingo Bus was born. Lingo Bus by VIPKid is an online Mandarin learning platform that connects Chinese teachers with English speaking children for one-to-one Mandarin lessons. As the world becomes increasingly connected, Lingo Bus and VIPKid serve two sides of the same equation – language and cultural exchange between the two most widely spoken languages on the planet.
If you’re interested in learning more about how your child can learn Mandarin, you can find out more about Lingo Bus here.