2008-05-06 02:03:37 SINA English
"This year our nation will stage the 29th Olympic Games. This offers an excellent opportunity to put Chinese civilization on display and to expand the influence of Chinese linguistic culture," the People's Daily, the official newspaper of the Communist Party said in an editorial.
This statement clearly represents the future. If you are smart enough to be paying attention you can see China coming and with it they are bringing their language and culture with them. The Olympics isn't just an opportunity for the Chinese to show off, it is a chance to show the world how globally important they are becoming. The Olympics will be China's coming out party. China and the Chinese language are moving center stage. They aren't taking over yet but they are no longer waiting in the wings for their chance to get noticed. The Olympics puts China right in the middle.
If you want to hear what they have to say you're going to have to learn to listen with better ears. They aren't just speaking English up there. They are speaking Chinese and we already know a lot of people are paying attention - some estimates say as many as 100 million learners are picking Chinese up as a 2nd language. But it is only these people smart enough to be learning Chinese that are hearing the whole message.
The Olympics is a bit of an anomaly: the spirit of the games is about bringing the world together but this is accomplished by making them compete against one another, it is an odd juxtaposition - kindness through competition. This time they are coming together in Beijing to compete against each other.
Speaking Chinese at the Olympics is probably the best way foreigners can show the Chinese how much we respect their growing presence in the world. Many Chinese have taken the time and energy to learn English as well as a host of other important languages in an effort to bridge communication gaps. It is now becoming the responsibility of the rest of the world to step up and start learning Chinese. We are, after all, going to be sitting in their front yard. The Chinese have a saying, you might recognize its meaning, 入乡随俗 (ru xiang sui su - pronounced rue she-ahng sway sue), this basically translates to, "When in Rome ..."
Many Chinese speak one of several languages from around the world. On any given day in Beijing you can hear English, French, German, Russian, as well as a host of African languages and many other important world languages coming from the mouths of the Chinese. And you can hear people from around the world communicating in Chinese. However there are a lot of Chinese people who only speak their mother tongue, rightly so, and if you want to meet and know them while you are here for the Games you are going to need some Chinese skills.
The easiest way to get the full benefits from being immersed in another culture is to learn the language. People have a chance at something more than a superficial experience that might come from sitting on a bus and being shuttled around from one historical site to another with plenty of stops to buy souvenirs. China has opened its doors and asked the world to come in and have a look. If you want to ask questions and get more out of your time with the Chinese you are going to have to ask in Chinese.
The truth is Chinese is not nearly as hard to learn as simply looking at the characters might suggest. In fact it is kind of fun and very interesting. And with a little help from the right people, eChineseLearning for example, it can be accomplished a lot quicker than you ever imagined.
Learning Chinese gives you an opportunity to make a difference at the Olympics. No one would argue that opening lines of healthy and meaningful communication between cultures is a bad thing. In fact, nearly everyone would agree that this could only work towards better understanding and bridging any culturally differences. By studying Chinese you have the opportunity to make these kinds of connections with the rich and vibrant cultures that make up China and all its ethnic diversities.