2008-05-06 01:54:33 SINA English
Studying anything has many advantages, and languages are no different. There are personal and professional advantages to be derived from studying them. Right now in the world Chinese is moving itself into a position to be the dominant language and cultural force for the 21st century. So it follows that learning Chinese just makes sense because it will change your life. But what, specifically, can be gained from knowing how to communicate with these people?
Let's start with the most commonly cited reasons for studying Chinese:
1. China is the most populous country in the world with over 1.4 billion people. Mandarin is spoken by almost one billion people. It is the most widely spoken language in the world. One out of five people in the world is Chinese;
2. Mandarin is spoken in the People's Republic of China, Taiwan, Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore, The Philippines, and Mongolia;
3. Knowing Chinese will allow students to compete effectively in the global economy of the future;
4. China is one of America's largest trading partners;
5. Many American companies do business in China, including Motorola, Coca Cola, and Ford;
5. Knowing Chinese may be an edge when competing for a job. The demand for business people who know Chinese is skyrocketing;
7. China is playing a major role in world affairs and will continue to do so;
8. A May 2006 Newsweek article stated that "In U.S. homes, Chinese has eclipsed French, German and Italian and become the third most commonly spoken language after English and Spanish;"
9. By studying Chinese, students will develop an appreciation for Chinese culture and history;
10. Leaning a second language develops critical and creative thinking skills.
(From: Chinese Language Association at www.classk12.org/bsc.htm)
Everyone knows these and has heard them several times. Let's start with the most obvious benefit in your life to learning Chinese -- the convenience of knowing the language. It opens more than 1 billion doors of communication. The Chinese are educated and sophisticated and getting to know them will make any one's life fuller and more interesting. Not too mention the travel possibilities. Being able to travel around China and see and experience their country and culture is an immeasurable benefit for a person's life. Once those doors are open what will you communicate about? Cultural exchanges, history, art, and of course business are four that readily hop to mind.
But there are other benefits too. For instance, a little less easy to see but just as important is that it creates choices. Access to a large part of Chinese culture is blocked from the average non-Chinese because only the books and other cultural aspects of the Chinese cultural heritage that someone thought might make a profit is available through translated works. The parts that have been made available don't even represent a fraction of a percent of what is really there. The lion's share is on a bookshelf waiting to be discovered. They are like diamonds that have been mined, polished, cut and begging to be re-discovered by the rest of the world.
Anyone who has spent some time, even briefly, learning about China quickly realizes how much there is out there that is rich, vibrant and insightful. The Chinese have a culture that reaches back at least 5000 years and have managed to record much of what has happened and been said and created over those years. Without a foothold in the language you are forced to rely on someone who might not be sensitive to your personal sense of curiosity. Knowing Chinese allows a freedom of movement through their history.
Further in the same vain, studying and knowing the Chinese characters is like challenging a deeply fascinating puzzle. Anyone with knowledge of Chinese has access to Chinese art. In fact, the characters themselves are a kind of art. Calligraphy is an ancient art form and studying it is a kind of art appreciation.
Finally at the financial end of the spectrum -- the Chinese are getting richer and it is estimated that 600 million people will reach the middle class in the not so distant future. This middle class represents the largest single consumer base with a significant amount of money to spend anywhere in the world. All those people who are too lazy to learn Chinese are going to need me or someone like me to communicate with these customers. This means learning Chinese presents a job opportunity for anyone with the wherewithal to invest the time and effort into learning this beautiful language. But demand for my time is growing and I might not have time to help you which translates directly into lost opportunities for you; or more significantly lost revenue. The easiest and most sensible solution is to take the time to learn the language.