The Times Opinion section has a debate over whether Americans will learn Chinese. To get an idea of how hard it is, watch this short video and ask yourself how long it will take you to instinctively differentiate the four tones. Of course, that's just the spoken language -- after that, there are those lovely ideograms :-)
Here's what Berkeley professor Bruce Fuller has to say:
... We are pathetically slow in realizing that East Asia will soon dominate the global economy. We believe, as did the last living Romans, that the American empire will reign forever. So, we fail to grasp the hard work, collective spirit and enormous investment in public institutions advanced by Chinese citizens.
We must learn the language and engage them at a human scale as first steps in appreciating the strengths of East Asian cultures. These virtues already lift America’s best universities. Over half of Berkeley’s undergraduates are now of East Asian descent.
Rather than bumbling along, government and corporate leaders should advance coherent policies for bilingualism. Europe began this process about four centuries ago. Washington moves quickly when military interests dominate. My Arabic-speaking son, Dylan, was offered $20,000 up front to staff intelligence outposts in the Middle East. But Mandarin? What’s the rush? The count of American high school students enrolled in Chinese classes is less than those studying German.
If you think the Arab world today poses a civilizational threat to the West, you are sadly deluded. The US has had its attention focused on the wrong competitors since 9/11.