Does Learning Mandarin Stimulate More Brainpower?


Despite being difficult to learn, Mandarin continues to witness increasing interest from overseas learners. Why? Many students take up Chinese lessons owing to its perceived status as the language of choice in commercial circles in China and surrounding countries like Taiwan, Malaysia and Hongkong.

Also, the fact that almost a quarter of the earth’s population is Chinese makes the language the most widely spoken across the world. Furthermore, millions of Chinese are moving to set up multinational corporations which increase the likelihood of hearing Chinese language or seeing Chinese speakers without having to travel to China while also providing career opportunities to those who are proficient in Chinese.

Apart from the business and career benefits of learning Chinese, another important reason is that learning Mandarin improves the cognitive abilities of learner. Whether you’re fourteen or fifty years old, learning Chinese is a healthy food to your brain.  Read on for more insight.

Use of both right and left side of the brain

Unlike English, Mandarin is a tonal language in which similar basic sounds may denote very different things depending on the tone through which it’s spoken. In Mandarin, for example, the syllable ‘ma’ may mean horse, scold, hemp or mother based on its tone.

When it comes to English and other non-tonal languages, the tone may relay emotional information concerning the speaker, but convey nothing about the meaning of the phrase that’s spoken. Because Mandarin language speakers use intonation to denote different meanings of specific words, this leads to the activation of both right and left sides of our brains to understand what is spoken.

People who speak English only use the left side of the brain, classically the go-to region for speech. Therefore, with the activation of the brain’s right in addition to the left side, the brain size and capacity of Chinese speakers is significantly enhanced. The end result is a more integrated network. Connections involving different regions of the brain become more active when learning Chinese. Due to these strong connections, the mind works faster and more efficiently as an entire network.

Cognitive development

Learning written Chinese, especially the thousands of Chinese characters improves the development of motor skills in addition to keeping the mind sharp. The Chinese writing system is unique and represents a unique style of writing. Other written languages descend from a common linguistic ancestry developed in the Mesopotamian world centuries ago.

While English which is mainly linear and jotted down from left to right, Chinese characters are notably complex in structure and are written in four directions: left and right, up and down. The chronological movement of the fingers and hand to jot down a character stimulates neural activity in the thinking, working, and spatial memory of the mind of the learners. 

Math skills

Research also points to a positive connection between learning of Mandarin and mathematical ability. Research has shown that native Asian children who are taught various subjects in Chinese language gain a better understanding of mathematical concepts compared to their counterparts in English speaking countries.

Studies have found that native English and Chinese speakers process numbers with distinct cortical hemispheres of the brain and the findings indicate that different types of languages, including English and Chinese, can influence the way non-language associated content is interpreted. More specifically, Chinese speakers experience more activity in the spatial and visual brain centre. Moreover, the simple approach of describing numbers in Chinese language makes speakers less dependent on language processing when calculating math.

There’s no doubt that taking up a Mandarin course not only enables you to be fluent but also improves your brain capacity to grasp concepts. Even though learning Chinese isn’t easy and is time consuming, the investment in learning how to speak and write Chinese characters will ultimately pay dividends through increased business and career opportunities for you as well as cognitive development.

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