Gaining the Mandarin Advantage

Famed investor Jim Rogers- Reuters reports, is known for being at the forefront of what’s hot and what’s not in the business world. When he became a father, he was clear that one of the critical ways to give his daughter an advantage was to have her learn Mandarin.



Ask any parent sending their child into the Singapore school system and one of their main concerns would be how their child might cope with learning a second language, especially Mandarin.

With China being the second largest economy in the world, more and more non-Chinese parents are sending their kids to learn Mandarin. After all, it is the most commonly spoken language in the world, topping the English language by over 5 million speakers. In fact, suggests that language-immersion programmes have seen a 300 per cent growth in demand for Mandarin Chinese Programs.

And while for most parts, English is still widely used in business and politics, it seems likely that people that only speak English will find themselves shunted to the side by the increasing number of bilingual people; usually, people who speak English and a second language. And while Spanish or French remains popular in North and South America, the tide is turning in favour of Mandarin as a second language. In tourism-centric countries like Bhutan, the ability to speak Mandarin means access to high paying jobs in their lucrative tourism sector.



There are many studies that have proven that speaking two or more languages is a great asset to the cognitive process and in a country like Singapore where bilingualism –  sometimes trilingualism – is the norm rather than the exception, there are many programmes available in the market that cater to the growing demand for Mandarin programmes. These programmes cater to children as young as six months of age.



Being a tonal language, an early exposure to Mandarin sets a good foundation for kids who wish to go on to attaining some competency in the language.



Most of these programmes offer an immersive environment for children – sometimes accompanied by a caregiver, to become exposed to Mandarin. These programmes usually employ a combination of music, dance, games, art and theatre activities to engage the child.

While the case can be made for another second language, there are studies which seem to suggest that Chinese characters help kids to develop the right side of their brains. For young children, the Mandarin Chinese characters have a strong pictorial element to them, thus they are able to absorb and remember them like the way they do with pictures.


The Experience

Little Mandarins – a premiere school for Mandarin Chinese programmes for kids as young as six months old, was founded by a Mum who believed that Mandarin classes should be fun, effective and relevant. Almost a decade later, the school is still growing from strength to strength with their hands-on, interactive programme helmed by passionate, fully bilingual teachers.

They boast a proprietary curriculum that ensures lessons are interactive and stimulating based on a hybrid of Eastern and Western teaching methods. Their five-learning ethos of Play, Grow, Make, Care and Share forms the foundation of all their programmes. For example, in the Grow module, children plant seedlings in class, absorbing a varied Mandarin vocabulary as they watch their seedlings blossom into beautiful flowers and plants.

Classes are kept small (capped at eight children) and this teacher to student ratio means that children benefit from a lot of personal attention.

We went to check out their Moms and Tots programme designed for children between 18 and 33 months. There, caregivers bond with their child over music and movement in Mandarin and both adults and kids learn together at the same time.



In this class, Mandarin words, sounds and tones are introduced through music,

movement and games.



Learning tools such as building blocks, storytelling, Chinese rhythm, nursery rhymes and body movement are used to bring the language to life. Words and concepts are taught in multiple ways to embed real learning.

A typical class would begin with a short time of free play to ease kids into class proper which is usually signalled by a high energy sing-a-long session. This is followed by a little treasure hunt game where kids go in search of a magic box that contains an item pertinent to that day’s lesson. Using the magic box as an anchor, the teachers share the lesson for that day. Some themes include colour, transportation, food and animals.

To reinforce the lesson, kids play small games that draw from the earlier lessons, giving them the chance to reinforce their learning. They also learn songs and do a related craft or a fun worksheet. At opportune moments, teachers go around the class to work with each kid and reward them with small stickers which are huge motivators for kids that age. Finally, the lesson winds down with some quiet time and the goodbye song.



Little Mandarins has a series of programmes:

  • Their Mums & Tots programme is for kids 18 to 33 months and lasts for an hour. This class uses music and movement to anchor its programme.
  • Their Playlessons programme is suitable for the three to four-year-old age set and is modified to cater to the fact that kids at this age are eager to explore new sounds and sensations vs sitting down and listening to stories.
  • Their signature Foundation 5S programme spans three Levels and is the cornerstone of their learning programme and is suitable for four-year-olds right through to 12-year-olds. This programme is 1.5hrs long.



Tel: 6473 8377


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