What is the right age to start learning Chinese?

If you are an overseas Chinese family, you might be wondering what is the right age to start teaching Chinese? Or might have started already from birth and wondering if that is too early?

According to a Overseas Online Chinese Language Learning White Paper <海外在线少儿中文学习白皮书> published by the Chinese Academy of Sciences using data mined from Lingobus, it is very interesting to note that actually 5-7 years old actually presents the peak age group for students learning Chinese on LingoBus.

The paper references research conducted by language professor Krystyna Drodzial Szeletst supporting the thesis that 2-7 years old is the prime age for language acquisition.

There is another great article here from Parents.com providing more references and research findings on why 3-4 years old is the ideal time to start second language learning.

Studies by Harvard University confirm that the creativity, critical thinking skills, and flexibility of the mind are significantly enhanced if children learn a second language at a younger age. Preschool years, especially the first three years of life, are believed to be a vital period in a child’s life. This is when the foundations for attitudes, thinking, and learning, among others, are laid down.

Other than the scientific reasons for why the brain absorbs and retains such information more natively when acquired at this age, it is also the age where they are more amenable parental influence on learning Chinese without as much social and environmental factors weighing the scales in the other direction. As they get older, the lack of practice use of Chinese becomes more and more apparent if living overseas. If none of their friends speak Chinese and none of the media or TV shows they are interested in is in Chinese, they are more likely to question the purpose of learning Chinese?

At ages 4-6, if we are able to, through parental investment of time and resources, help them get a certain level of Chinese literacy under their belt, then they may find later that this ability opens them up to a whole new world of interesting books, comics, shows, friends and culture. This then creates the motivation to continue to learn and hopefully builds some momentum that takes them through to learning the 3000 characters needed to be conversant.

Time is of the essence. Let’s invest the time and resources now to help our kids acquire an asset that will pay back many fold for their lifetime, not just in terms of what careers they can pursue but also being able to develop a less biased view of the world by consuming content and media from diverse sources and languages.

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