Chinese Lessons For First Graders

In France, demand for lessons in Chinese and Japanese now rivals traditional options Spanish and German. English is still tops.

It's not just the language: French children love Asian culture too
It's not just the language: French children love Asian culture too
Aude Sérès

PARIS - Chinese class instead of football, Japanese instead of judo. For parents in France, the latest trend is to invest in their children's future by signing them up for Chinese lessons as soon as they reach pre-school.

In the latest indication for the growing popularity of Asian languages, so many parents are sending their children to learn Chinese or Japanese that the CNED (France's national distance-learning center) has cancelled its traditional German language option for primary school children and replaced it with Chinese. About 100 children are signed up to the course, the same as those signed up for Spanish. As well as lessons, students get a compilation of documents on Chinese culture, and an exercise manual.

In state-run education, English remains the top foreign language. But in the latest figures, 592 children are signed up for Chinese classes at primary school, just as many as are learning Spanish. But the trend is most marked in the private sector. Tutors and specialized language schools have been profiting from this emerging market over the last few months. The Cultural center of China in Paris has seen a significant increase in the number of pupils under the age of 14 over the last two years. Now totaling 150, these young children represent a quarter of all their students, and have one and a half hours of lessons a week.

"For the last two years we've noted a 20% rise each year in the number of young children signed up," says Ming Zhu, who is responsible for education in the cultural center. "Most often, these are French families making a strategic educational choice. The parents see the teaching as a factor that will contribute to their children's future success." But certain children are also instinctively enthusiastic about these languages from an early age. Manga culture and Japanese cartoons, video games, and even the figurines popular with young girls, are all factors attracting youngsters towards the Japanese culture.

"A younger manga readership has contributed to the appeal for learning the Japanese language", notes Lionel Panafit, a researcher of manga sociology at the French business school HEC.

This is the case for ten-year-old Lisa, in her fifth year of primary school, who has been learning Japanese for two years. "First I became interested in mangas, then in Japanese culture," she says. "I found the language was beautiful and that made me want to learn it."

Private Japanese tutor, Shizuru Prieur, who teaches students in their own homes, says that the "The idea often comes from the children themselves. And besides, it's a good age to learn Japanese phonetic reflexes'. The Yukata school, which also organizes intensive courses, has noted an increase in home lessons for 7 to 8-year-olds, and even has a three-year-old child among its pupils.

Photo - tiseb

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Saving The Planet Is Really A Question Of Dopamine

Our carelessness toward the environment could be due, in part, to the functioning of a very primitive area of our brain: the striatum.

Ad scuba-diver and brain coral

Stefano Lupieri

PARIS — Almost every week, a new scientific study alerts us to the degradation of the environment. And yet, we continue not to change anything fundamental in our systems of production and habits of consumption. Are we all suffering from blindness, or poisoned by denial?

In his popular books Le Bug humain (The Human Bug) and Où est le sens? (Where is the Sense?), Sébastien Bohler, a journalist in neuroscience and psychology, provides a much more rational explanation: The mechanism responsible for our propensity to destroy our natural environment is in fact a small, very deep and very primitive structure of our brain called the striatum.

This regulator of human motivation seems to have been programmed to favor behaviors that ensure the survival of the species.

Addictions to sex and social media

Since the dawn of humanity, gathering information about our environment, feeding ourselves, ensuring the transmission of our genes through sexual intercourse and asserting our social status have all been rewarded with a shot of dopamine, the 'pleasure hormone.'

Nothing has changed since then; except that, in our society of excess, there is no limit to the satisfaction of these needs. This leads to the overconsumption of food and addictions to everything from sex to social media — which together account for much of the world's destructive agricultural and energy practices.

No matter how much we realize that this is leading to our downfall, we can't help but relapse because we are prisoners of the dopamine pump in the striatum, which cannot be switched off.

Transverse section of striatum from a structural MRI image

Lindsay Hanford and Geoff B Hall via Wikipedia

Tweaking genetics 

According to Bohler, the only way out is to encourage the emergence of new values of sobriety, altruism and slowness. If adopted, these more sustainable notions could be recognized by the striatum as new sources of dopamine reward. But there's the challenge of promoting inspiring stories that infuse them with value.

Take the photo-collage exhibition "J'agis ici... et je m'y colle" ("I'm taking action here... and I'm sticking to it"), a collection of life-size portraits of residents committed to the energy transition, displayed on the walls of the French coastal city of La Rochelle.

Backed by the French National Center for Street Arts, photographer Martin Charpentier may be employing artistic techniques, but he's also tinkering with neuroscience in the process.

Les Echos
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