How important is it to learn Mandarin Chinese? How useful will it be?
Last week I went to a Vietnamese restaurant. While I was waiting for my takeout, I overheard the owner yelling at one of her employees (can’t tell his origin, but definitely not Chinese) because he accidentally closed the front door so that I got up and opened the door for the next customer. After a minute, that unlucky employee went to me and complained about his boss in CHINESE! As if he was talking about my order. I was surprised that it was just a random guy in the local restaurant. He’s not so fluent, but his pronunciation and grammar are all correct. He told me his boss does not understand Chinese, and she was mean to them. I don’t know how to respond but I surely tipped him well.
So learning Chinese is important, it allows you to complain about your boss, right in his/her face 🙂
Enough about the joke. More and more people speak Chinese now, since it’s not that hard as one would anticipate, and it would be an ice-breaker when it comes to talking to a Chinese, even if you can only say a sentence or two. I’ve heard pretty decent Chinese from a Jehovah’s Witnesses preacher in the parking lot outside a grocery store. He used 您贵姓 (some polite “to whom do I owe this honor” level Chinese) to ask my name, instead of the simple 你叫什么名字 (what’s your name). Though I never believed a word about his preaching, but his fluent Chinese did impress me.
Recently I’ve also noticed that there are quite a few popular videos in Chinese websites (usually over 10K hits). In these videos, either a foreigner talks in Chinese, or Chinese and foreigners talk together about how things are different in China and other countries (张逗张花). They are funny but I don’t think they’are only aiming for fun. As far as I know, the last one now has sponsors (Pizza hut) and provides ads at the end of each video.
More and more people are learning Chinese, so I think it would give you some edge in your field, no matter it’s waiting at tables, preaching, or being a self-media star.
Although I myself have not studied or learned Mandarin Chinese yet, I can still understand that learning Mandarin Chinese can be a good thing to prepare for the future of the world and how important it can be to learn the language. Like English, Mandarin Chinese’s influence in the world will steadily increase as China comes into contact with other nations and tries to create relations. China’s influence in Asia and its growing influence in the world will only cause it to spread further. I would consider it important for anyone wishing to get involved in the modern world to learn Mandarin Chinese.
I myself am taking Mandarin Chinese because I am planning on teaching English somewhere over in China after I graduate from college next year. I wouldn’t want to go over to China without prior knowledge of its language, its culture, and the issues that it is currently trying to fix. While all three of these would be very important to learn, I would consider the learning of Mandarin Chinese the most important of those three topics. If I am going to want to communicate with the average Chinese citizen that I happen to come across during my time over there, my knowledge of the common language is obviously going to be handy in that situation. For people other than me, one reason that learning Mandarin could be considered important would be the fact that China has one of the world’s fastest growing economies, and most likely will top the United States in thenear future. American, British, German, or anybody planning on going into business will want to study some Mandarin and get accustomed to it before moving to China. Another reason to take Chinese would be that its involvement in world affairs (especially in southeastern Asia, Africa, and Latin America) has been leading to an understanding that China is becoming a more important key player in the UN. In this instance, the politician or whoever is communicating with the Chinese in his/her country would see it necessary to learn Chinese to better communicate with whomever China has sent over to helpthem. Although a translator would be a faster route of communication for both of these cases, it would be more beneficial and respectful. I’d be fascinated to talk to someone from another country across the Atlantic or Pacific who knows how to communicate in English but was not born with English as their primary language. To conclude, my view on this topic is that Mandarin Chineseis as beneficial to world society as English is.
I used to live in Cambridge which (as anyone who lives there will tell you) is overflowing with Chinese students. I was lucky enough to speak with some of them and it from there that I started learning Chinese.
One thing I did notice, however, was that whenever I went out with some Chinese friends we’d end up somewhere a little…Chinesy. Not in any problematic way, but it did let me see just about every Chinese restaurant and bar in the city. Cambridge is not especially big, but there were a lot of them.
This was the first step.
I came to China first in 2013, and after a year came back to the UK again for a holiday. I had a nice trip around London when I got back, and couldn’t help but notice, again, just how many Chinese people and restaurants there were around. I could, by this time, read a few signs, pick out a few words and phrases (Cantonese-speakers didn’t help here) and generally satisfy myself that I knew what I was looking for in those confusingly-muddled Chinese supermarkets.
This was the second step.
After a couple more years in China, by which time I had become reasonably conversational, I visited the UK again last year. Again in London, but then in my hometown as well, I saw signs, heard people talking and even noticed Chinese where I had never seen it before, but had looked at since I was a child. Certain books I had read, or signs on the high street, or translations on tourist information leaflets.
This was the final step.
I had started learning Mandarin as a hobby: a novelty since it looked so flipping difficult more than anything (I like a challenge). Whilst a lot of the things mentioned above are sure to be things I had just missed when I was younger, I’m sure the increasing number of Chinese people living abroad, travelling abroad or…well, just in general, means that it cannot be a waste of time to learn. Hey, I’m in it for the money too.
The world has spent a lot of time trying to learn English because the last two global superpowers both spoke it. Don’t you think you should get a head-start on the next one?
Mandarin Chinese is but one of the many regional dialects (read: languages) of China; other major ones include Cantonese, Hokkien (similar to Taiwanese), and Shanghainese. However, as a common language of all PRChinese ROChinese, Singaporean (and Malaysian) Chinese, it might be useful to learn it in case you are going to the four countries, where you will be able to ask for directions or favours from any Chinese.
But the importance of learning Mandarin… I would say it is a useful language to learn, but not at all important. Unless you have been staying in China (or Taiwan) for at least a year and have not been able to communicate with the locals properly. In Singapore and Malaysia a basic command of Mandarin is not required, for English and Malay are likely to be spoken by the Chinese there as well.
And may I please add that most Overseas Chinese tend to speak the Chinese dialect of where ever their ancestors came from, and would usually be able to speak the local tongue well enough for survival.
However, if you do learn Mandarin and do not look like a local Chinese, it is extremely useful for eavesdropping on people who may be talking about you behind your back and then asking them if ‘你们在说我吗?’ (Are you guys talking about me?) and then watching their shocked expressions:)
Extremely useful. If you plan to analyze and understand contemporary China, Chinese language ability is crucial to interpreting policy statements from the Central People’s Government on the direction of the economy and ship-of-state. This same language ability provides a China watcher with the same tools to understand what interests, motivations, and fears of Chinese officialdom through state-owned media outlets such as Global Times, Qiushi, Red Flag, and the People’s Daily. Nuance, relevance with prior historical precedent, and a fundamental understanding of “China” is mostly lost when burdened with cultural and linguistic translation costs.
I tend to agree with Jimmy Liu that unless your plan is to work in a Chinese company or live in China, then Chinese language ability will not provide you with much utility. I will qualify this with governmental/diplomatic work, where fluency in a “critical language” (i.e. non-Western European language) is highly valued.
With this in mind, I can’t think of another language with the possible exceptions of Spanish and Arabic that would provide the greatest returns on a cost/benefit ratio.
I grew up in an English speaking environment, be it in school or family. I only got to speak mandarin during Chinese Language classes in school, back then I did not even bother learning as I believed English is everything, as the people around me did not speak mandarin as well. I have been struggling with this language since school days.
However, I am currently in my 3rd job. This is the job whereby I need to use mandarin to communicate with my customers and I even get the opportunity to follow my boss to work in China. Never in my life had I felt the importance of Chinese language. I enjoy my job a lot, the only problem is the language barrier, which I am actively learning. I am mastering the skills and techniques. I am also amazed by the differences in the usage of the Chinese language across different Chinese continent. eg. Cup noodles and Washroom have different names, depending on which country you are in.
Nevertheless, learning a new language is always good and useful. Hope my sharing helps. Currently I am learning Chinese Language from Mr Lim, whom my colleague recommended me. His contact is 97279365.