Monday, February 08, 2010

Learn Chinese!

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.


AlchemX said...

Since we're putting up Youtube videos to demonstrate, here's another one of a completely opposing (englocentric) viewpoint:

English Mania

It's not likely that the U.S. will learn Chinese to much of an extent. Keeping things in Pinyin might help.

But the rest of the world is increasingly invested in English as a "working" language. English does have some bad characteristics. But it's simpler to type and apply to many needs.

I know many Chinese-Americans who can speak the language fairly well but can't write it in the traditional form or using pinyin, so I predict things will fair worse for Americans without a family to back them up.

But Chinese does have population on its side, so who knows, it could beat English. And URLs can now be typed using character from many different languages, so we may be seeing a real challenge by Chinese.

Sabine Hossenfelder said...

Nonsense. The Americans and the Chinese, they should all learn German and that will become the world language. Who is egocentric?

Unknown said...

Really, the last living Romans believed the American empire would last forever? Berkeley needs better professors.

Max said...

I d love learn chinese unfortunately I am tone deaf. That means pronunciation and oral language is very hard for me. It was trouble enough to learn spoken English ( was reading and writing relatively fluently years before I could speak)

For tonal languages like mandarin , korean it will be downright impossible for me.

I couldn't distinguish more than 2 tones (out of 4) in this video -that how bad it is for me

Unknown said...

Max, Korean is essentially non-tonal (certainly not to the extent the Chinese languages are).

Unknown said...

Someone should come up with a way for motivated adults with some free time to learn a language. I mean, if people are willing to put in effort to grind to level 70 in World of Warcraft just imagine what they could learn in the right environment...

Unknown said...

Four tones is too few. Most Chinese dialects have more.

gs said...

1. Maybe it's just me, but $20K isn't much of an inducement to venture into the intelligence front lines in the Middle East.

2. IMHO smart ambitious American youth should learn an Asian language and a Hispanic language (which doubles as Latin American and European), but a Mideastern or African one only in special circumstances.

3. 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.

That the Arab/Mideastern/Islamic world, in its present form, at the present moment, is perceived as a civilizational threat is a symptom of the dysfunction of the West. (In the past the threat was real and existential. In the future, who knows?)

The East would be legitimate competitors even if the West had its act together.

The foregoing assumes that competition will be sane and rational. However, WMDs could be unleashed deliberately, accidentally, or via a slippery slope.

Dave Gore said...

Most Chinese teachers in the US are oriented toward teaching Chinese children how to write, and have no training in how to teach the spoken language to foreigners. Doing so takes a lot of oral drill, something Chinese teachers seem to avoid(for cultural reasons?). I don't expect many Americans to learn Chinese until this problem is solved.

Ian Smith said...

Another reason is that Chinese is a hideously ugly and stupid monosyllabic uncommunicative language.

There is no Chinese philosophy because it is impossible to think in Chinese.

The Asian of Reason said...

The relative difficulty of inputing Chinese on a keyboard has led to some interesting differences in website design. Westerners like typing a lot, Chinese people prefer to use the mouse to click around. It isn't easy to input Chinese with any method.

My old SWPL private high school began a Chinese program two years ago.

Learning Chinese takes a lot of time for foreigners, much more time than learning another Western language. With Chinese, you can't start to really read articles until you know at least 1500+ characters. You can read stuff out loud in Spanish after taking a semester of class, even if you have no idea what it means, but you can't do that in Chinese!

Don't learn Chinese if you don't plan on using it. It's not worth it. If you are a beta male white male with yellow fever who wants to get some Chinese fried rice, get in line. It takes many years to become fluent, and you'll still be stuck with that funny foreigner accent unless you are awesome.

Chinese Study Adviser said...

Top Ten Reasons why you should learn Chinese

1. Personal Interest;
2. Tourism
3. Business and Career Opportunities
5. Social
6. Chinese Martial Arts / Sport
7. Calligraphy
8. Chinese Heritage
9. History

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