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  • Writer's picture Selena Lee

What's in a name and why Mandarin + Arts?

Updated: Jun 15, 2019

Mandarin Arts. Mandarin + Arts. MandarinArts. That was me scribbling on a piece of paper when we were first deciding on a name. It started with twenty different names that very quickly dwindled into three, and finally just combinations of the word Mandarin and Arts.

So why MandarinArts?

When thoughts of starting a studio devoted to teaching Mandarin first came to my mind, I had flashbacks of my childhood in Singapore where we learned the Chinese Mandarin language in big classroom environments.

Skyline of Singapore where I grew up learning the Mandarin Chinese language

Most of us learned Mandarin through our school's curriculum where learning a second language is mandatory. We also learned through constant exposure to the language since Singapore is a multi-lingual society where most, if not all, of its citizens speak at least 2 languages. This is especially true for anyone born after the '60s. Singapore had adopted the English language as the official primary language for its education system, but everyone had to pick a mandatory second language, what was also termed the “mother tongue.” Most people of Chinese descent from both or either parent picked Mandarin Chinese as their second language. Others would select Malay, Hindi, French, or in the catholic convent school I was in, even German, as their second language. I said “even” only because German was definitely not a common second language choice in Asia. Not even in an Asian country as diverse, westernized, and multicultural as Singapore. Back then, second language education was taught 2-3 times a week for about an hour in the public and private schools throughout the country. I remember liking that it was called “second language” and not “foreign language.” For some reason unbeknownst to little kid me, “foreign” just sounded, well, too foreign. Second language sounded more inclusive, almost organic to our inner being. It feels natural to me for people to speak multiple languages and be able to communicate with one another in various languages.

But I digress.

Much as I enjoyed learning Mandarin as a second language in a classroom environment for 14 years in Singapore, I always felt like something was lacking in that approach. Wouldn’t it be more engaging and fun to incorporate the arts into teaching Mandarin? Wouldn’t kids enjoy and learn the language more naturally if they were also learning another creative activity like music or dance or drama in that same language? The old single-track approach, I believe, was successful in Singapore only because it is an Asian country where the Mandarin language is widely spoken and experienced. It’s a part of life there. It’s a totally different story here in America. For American kids or America born Chinese kids to learn the Mandarin language more effectively, it had to go beyond the classroom. Children need to experience the language while doing or learning something else other than sitting in a mandarin language class, which is the standard choice offered by the very few mandarin language institutions anywhere in the United States. One is often hard pressed to find a school or facility teaching Mandarin and yes, this is definitely true even in some of the largest and most cosmopolitan American cities like Los Angeles or New York. So, to find one that offers classes centered on multiple creative pursuits beyond just strict Mandarin language classes, is virtually non-existent. Until now. We hope that between myself, who grew up learning Mandarin as a second language for 14 years, and my co-founder Casey, who was born and bred in China and hence native to the language, we would hit on a happy medium with a completely bespoke educational approach to teaching this beautiful and melodious language, which also happens to be the most spoken language in the world. Yes, you heard that right. Mandarin, not English, is the most spoken language in the world. But more on that later. Maybe another blog post.

For me personally, combining the arts into this whole second language experience is the most natural evolution. My dream for my own kids is for them to grow up to be global citizens, effectively multi-lingual, culturally aware, and with a great appreciation for the arts. To achieve my goal, as a starting point, requires Mandarin + Arts, hence our name. How well I execute on this personal goal remains to be seen. But as parents, all we can do is try our best and in every way possible.

We took the plunge into this new venture months ago with very little real assurances of success. But, which start-up did? However, since launching our website just 3 months ago, the number of emails I've received has been astonishing. Letters from parents telling me they love our original concept of incorporating the arts into mandarin education, and how that sounds like such a wonderful idea for their kids. Emails from parents thanking me for starting this studio and how they can't wait for their kids to be enrolled in our classes. I am floored. It certainly is beyond encouraging as we continue working hard to officially launch the studio in Los Angeles, California this Spring. Here's to #MandarinArtsStudio, #MandarinLanguage, #MandarinAsSecondLanguage, #LearningMandarinInLosAngeles, #RaisingBilingualKids, #CoolStartups. Have a wonderful 2019, everyone! And, thank you from the bottom of my heart for your support.

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