A successful Canadian entrepreneur once explained to us that he had to “manufacture obstacles for his children” with learning Mandarin being one of them. He valued creating opportunities for struggle because it allowed his children to hone their tenacity and resilience – something he argued can be lost if everything is too easy for them in life.
Learning a new language can certainly be a challenge for kids and parents alike. Often it may be tempting for parents to latch onto statements like “English is the global lingua franca” as an out. It is crucial to recognize in these moments, that the process of learning a second language is the most valuable part of the gift they are giving to their children. Dr. Jim Stigler of UCLA explains that:
"Struggle is a predictable part of the leraning process. Everyone is expected to struggle in the process of learning, and so struggling becomes a chance to show that you, the student, have what it takes emotionally to resolve the problem by persisting through that struggle." [source]
Sure here in the English-speaking part of the world, learning a second language is a luxury and a child’s quality of life will not diminish if they cannot speak Spanish, Mandarin or French. We cannot however overlook the fact that elsewhere around the world, children are learning from ages as young as 2 or 3 to learn a second language, English. They work hard at it, and in the process learn how to persevere through a challenge and overcome struggle. So in the increasingly global marketplace your child will definitely be competing for jobs and opportunities with their peer group from Brazil, Spain, France, India, Russia …the list goes on and on. And by teaching your children a second language you ensure they aren’t missing out on the crucial skill of perseverance.
So the next time your child laments conjugations or questions the purpose of learning 中文, don’t forget you are giving them one of the most valuable gifts for their future.