Learning Mandarin is becoming more fashionable and interesting as the Chinese Nation takes on a bigger role with significantly greater global influence.

Challenging though it is, learning Mandarin is no more difficult than attempting to understand the current European financial crisis and all its associated politics and frustrations. In the background of all this confusion, China quietly grows bigger and more capable of taking over vital and strategic businesses – all good reasons for studying the mandarin language in all its glory. It seems that I will need to do much more than just ‘parrot’ the words though. I thought the English language  was challenging but Mandarin seems to have the edge … as the old song goes, “it’s not what you say but the way that you say it”!

I’m told by my Chinese wife that I have to get my head around the ‘tones’ of Mandarin as well as the vocabulary and everything else that appears natural for her but is a total nightmare for me! Basically, there are four tones…

1. Straight across —— keeping a level tone as you speak

2. Rising up from low to higher as you pronounce the word

3. Dropping down from higher to lower

4. Yes, you’ve guessed it, dropping down and then rising back up again

In English we might say “one” and mean “won” (or vice-verse) but in Mandarin, depending on how we change TONE as we utter the same sound “”Wan” (it’s not a word, just a sound) we will mean one of many different thoughts or meanings!! For example:

The sound “wan” (with a straight line tone) can mean “peas” or “bend” and a few more!

The same sound “wan” (with a descending high-low tone) can mean “10,000” or “wrist”

The same sound “wan” (with an ascending low-high tone) can mean “finish”, “playing”, “meat-ball” or “naughty”… plus a few more!

Yet again, the same sound “wan” (with a descending tone followed by an ascending tone), this can mean anything from “late” or “bowl” to “linking arms” as women often do to help each other walk down the road (even while they are sober)!

So, who’s up for learning Chinese Mandarin, either for a pure challenge or for business? Maybe as an investment for a future job in China, indeed, anywhere; It seems that the Chinese Government is quite keen to buy up utility and technology companies from the West… and why not if they are prepared to learn English and study western management techniques (a further mystery for sure)!

Recently, I can detect a definite change in the British approach to learning another language, it just so happens to be coincident with a major sun-rise of Eastern influence on the global political and commercial horizons.

I’ve already made some commitment by taking a bright and beautiful Chinese lady for my wife and I’m learning the culture the easy way (who said it’s easy?). Let me say that I have learned as much about my own Western culture as I have about the Chinese culture in the last five years since we were married.

However, three years ago we had a little boy and, as you can imagine, our lives changed away from a focus on self indulgence and communicating to one of child care and his development. I would never have believed at that time he would overtake me in learning Mandarin within three and a half years! The facts are there for me to see and hear… he understands Mandarin and speaks some of it in addition to his thorough grasp of grown-up English!

One thing I do fully understand is that the new generations of young people, spread far and wide from East to West, are open minded and fresh for learning the most complex things in life; I hope they will have the ability and desire to deal with global politics, commercial and territorial greed. I wonder if the ability to speak more languages will create more rounded leaders and decision makers from, say, 2020… that’s when I predict China will take a major hold of global power? Currently, her economy is only second to that of the USA but is rapidly catching up.

That brings me back to the stem reason for learning Mandarin in the first place; in our case it’s mainly to prepare Oliver for the time (hopefully) when he is given the choice of work here in England or Europe or many other countries across the globe where Mandarin will be spoken – even China itself.

By the summer of 2012 (only a few months from now) we also hope to be giving many other people the same opportunity of learning Mandarin via my wife’s mother tongue. Meanwhile, she is learning something equally challenging for her; she is learning how to do good business and teach her Mandarin to thousands, possibly millions of people across the new world. Will YOU be one of them?