New BBC show offers Mandarin for pre-schoolers
THE BBC has launched a new language show teaching pre-schoolers the basics of Mandarin.
The Lingo Show, which begins on CBeebies today, uses a cartoon character called Wei to introduce children as young as four to the Chinese language via songs and games.
Young viewers will learn to count to 10, say “hello” and “thank you” and memorise basic words such as cat, dog, boat and the names of various colours.
Other characters on the programme will teach Urdu, Punjabi, Somali and Polish — representing languages spoken in many school playgrounds.
But the makers of the show describe Mandarin as one of three "priority" languages, alongside French and Spanish.
Experts have warned that western children could be left behind if it does not adapt to a world in which China is an economic powerhouse.
Analysts predict China could overtake the United States as the world’s greatest economic power by 2027, and the ability to speak fluent Mandarin will be an asset in business.
Some schools already teach their pupils Mandarin.
Dr Frances Weightman, a senior lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Leeds, said pre-school children would not find Mandarin difficult to learn.
“There are certain qualities to Mandarin which make it a very good language to teach young children,” she said. “It’s tonal, so it lends itself very well to imitation and nursery rhymes, singing, that kind of thing.
“Also, Mandarin has short sounds — the numbers up to 10 have single syllables, for example — so the words are much shorter than French words.
“People talk a lot about the Chinese education system and rote memorisation, but for younger children repetition works quite well. And teaching it so young takes the exoticism out of a language that is so very different from English.”
Dr Weightman predicted that Mandarin will one day overtake French, German and Spanish in the national curriculum.
“In a sense, there’s not a whole lot of point in people learning French or German; Spanish is fine if you’re going on holiday, but not in business terms. I think learning Mandarin is going to be the way forward,” she said.
The Lingo Show, which is aimed at four to six year-olds, began online and proved so popular with parents that the decision was taken to transfer it to television.
Kay Benbow, the head of the CBeebies channel, said the programme “introduces children to the magic of language and different cultures”.