Based on the latest report of Focus Economics, China's economy continues to rise. Domestic and international demand for its products remains strong, and its currency has gained strength.
It has the world's second largest economy. Moreover, China is one of the larger trading partners of the U.S. Many companies in the United States do business in China and have offshore offices in the country.
Given the scenario, it is advisable for people, students and professionals alike, to study Chinese, particularly Mandarin Chinese, which is the dominant form of Chinese language used in the mainland.
However, the language has a reputation for being one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn. To be proficient, meaning being able to read and write in Chinese, will take about 88 weeks, at 5 hours of study, 5 times a week. That translates to a little over 18 months of continuous study. Do you have the time and the patience for it?
Here are some things to know
China's culture, which is more than 5,000 years old, is the oldest and richest continuous culture in the world. If you isolate Mandarin Chinese, it is spoken in 13 countries, with about 909 million speaking it as their first language.
Most of the Mandarin Chinese speakers are in China, where it is also called Standard Chinese, Northern Chinese, Mandarin, Zhongguohua, Beijinghua and Beifang Fangyan.
Mandarin is also spoken in countries with large Chinese Diasporas such as Thailand, Singapore, Philippines, Mongolia, Myanmar, Indonesia, Taiwan, Malaysia, Macau, Brunei, Hong Kong and Australia. In the United States the prevalent Chinese language is Cantonese.
Things you should consider
Studying Chinese is not just about learning the language. It has to be a total package, meaning you have to learn its culture, history, economy and politics. You have to study its archeology, its arts and its literature. Learning these will help you understand how the language affects its society and what Chinese culture is behind its language.
Is the language difficult to learn?
The question is subjective because some people say that it is easy to learn Chinese if you devote some time to learning it. Others say that it is very difficult to learn, or maybe they are just being prejudiced or swayed by rumors. Some people even say that there is no need to learn the language because the Chinese speakers are not as globally dispersed as other languages, such as Spanish, English, Arabic, French or German.
However, here are some facts:
Chinese grammar is not complicated. Since you do not have to conjugate verbs, you do not need to memorize the tenses. Noun declension is not present. The word order is the same as in English – S-V-O or subject-verb-object. Some of the content of modern concepts such as literature, inflation, party, science, health and state would be familiar to English speakers. The reasons for this are that these modern concepts were created from the translations of concepts in English.
Benefits of learning Mandarin Chinese
Many proponents for learning Mandarin Chinese maintain it will help you understand your counterparts from China. Communication will be more effective because there will be a common platform for understanding and knowledge.
They also believe that it is important for one's career to learn Chinese, given that most companies now prefer applicants who are bilingual or multilingual. Many corporations trading with China or have offices in China are looking for people who can speak Mandarin. Employment opportunities are bigger, whether a person would be hired to handle the foreign business section of a company or be sent to China as an expat.
Native speakers who are also Mandarin Chinese speakers are quite rare, which is why they are in great demand. Therefore, job applicants have more chances of being hired if they speak Mandarin Chinese.
Role in world affairs
China closed its doors to the outside world since the 15th century. During the time of the Ming Dynasty, it was the world's most powerful country. It was self-sufficient so they did not need any interaction with the rest of the world. Its size and population made it possible for the country to sustain its economy and its population.
China started reopening its doors to the West in 1972. The country is predicted to be a future major player in world affairs. Thus more areas for employment will be open to other nationalities. It is better to prepare now so you can be more fluent in the language when the time comes.
Language immersion and other opportunities
Studying Mandarin Chinese will take some time. It is important for language learners to undergo language immersion, to better understand the country's culture, its people and the language itself. This means a Mandarin Chinese learner will have the opportunity to tour China and stay there for a while. An English speaker will have opportunities to teach English while honing his/her Chinese language skills. So it is a win-win situation.
More reasons to learn Mandarin Chinese
Just like learning any other language, there is difficulty to be encountered when learning a foreign language at the first stage. But it will definitely get better once you understand the rudiments. Mandarin Chinese will present some problems to speakers of the English language because English is from the West Germanic branch of the Indo European language family. Chinese on the other hand is from one of the branches of the Sino-Tibetan language family.
- Mandarin Chinese is the most widely spoken among the numerous Chinese dialects. It is also an official language of the United Nations, so there are more opportunities for employment there.
- One hurdle to be overcome is the Chinese writing system. It uses semi-phonetic ideograms and pictograms instead of phonetic writing.
- Its grammar is simple and you do not have to memorize genders, cases and tenses. It does not have complex honorific grammar like in Japanese and Korean languages.
- Chinese is a tonal language and learning the tones may present some problems. However, native speakers of Mandarin more often go for the context instead of the tone to understand foreigners who are speaking Mandarin.
- There are more ways to learn Chinese today. Computer-assisted learning is a very good option because you can learn at your own pace, in your own time and still have fun while learning. The lessons are supplemented by audio and video recordings. It is easier for language students to assimilate their lessons when they are able to hear the language as it is normally spoken.
- While there are people who say that you will be able to speak to billions of Chinese when you know how to speak the language, let us be practical here. It is next to impossible. How many friends do you have in real life? How many friends do you have on Facebook and other social media platforms? We can safely say that you can add to your circle of friends because you can develop friendships with fellow learners of Mandarin, be friends with a number of Mandarin Chinese speakers who want to learn English and vice versa. Still, it is a good prospect.
- High quality dictionaries are now available online, as well as well-recorded programs to learn characters. Online language teaching and immersion sites are also available, where students can learn the language through formal lessons, with graded tests, fun videos, one-on-one learning, buddy learning systems and online consultations. More sophisticated Chinese character typing apps are coming out as well for PCs, mobile phones, laptops and tablets.
Are you ready to take on the challenge and learn Mandarin Chinese if you are contemplating on learning a new language? China's economy is booming and it is open to economic cooperation with several countries. There is still a gap between China and the rest of the world in terms of communication. The demand is there for English speakers who can speak Mandarin Chinese that will make you a very attractive prospect for a good paying job.
Several fun and free ways to learn the language are available. You can listen to recordings of Chinese poetry and music, where you will definitely hear how the language is naturally spoken.
If you want to learn common, everyday words and phrases, watch Chinese movies and dramas. Most of them have subtitles, so you can hear the Chinese words and see their translation in English or in other languages. YouTube and several other video streaming sites allow you to watch subtitled videos without any charge.
Tips for beginners
- To learn Chinese faster, the student must learn Pinyin. It is the ''romanization'' of the Hanzi or Chinese characters. With Pinyin, the student can learn how to pronounce the Chinese characters in Roman letters.
- A Chinese character represents syllable. Pinyin allows you to phonetically spell it out. The marks above the letters indicate the five tones of the Chinese language (one neutral and four tones). However, the student must understand that learning Pinyin is not enough because there are exceptions in the pronunciation. For example, ''shi'' is not pronounced like the English "she." In Chinese, the right pronunciation is closer to ''sure.''
- You can find several learning materials online that you can download. Aside from written texts, you can also download recordings. It is important when learning Mandarin Chinese to constantly listen to how it sounds and how the words are pronounced. Listen to recordings while you're on your way to school or office.
- Pay close attention to the tones, as these are the characteristics that give the words the right meaning. Concentrate also on learning Pinyin, as learning about the Chinese characters can be postponed for later when you are already well versed in the basics of the language.
- Listen to native speakers, emulate them and practice every day.