Thinking on the Eastern side of the Brain

Learning Mandarin is very likely to give you an economic advantage in the years ahead. Recent research has shown that it could help you in other more surprising ways too.

A six-year German-Chinese research project has shown that Chinese brains work faster than western ones. The Chinese students were better at processing information intellectually and quicker at memory tests. But when it came to simple reaction time tests, the Europeans were better. The researchers believe that it is because of how the mind has to process the more complex Mandarin and Cantonese languages than the Roman alphabet. Mandarin has about 50,000 word characters. A knowledge of 3000 would be needed to read a newspaper. A well-educated person may know around 5000. To complicate matters further Chinese languages are phonetic. A vocal change can dramatically change the meaning of words. Mandarin has four tones, Cantonese has eight.

It’s also thought that there is less difference between the left and right hemispheres of the average Chinese brain compared with the average European brain. This is perhaps due to the very visual pattern recognition nature of the language which requires a more even balance of the traditional left and right brain specialisms. European languages are much more left brain dominant.

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