By Ling-Ling Lisa Shih
Learning a foreign language is no easy task. It takes time and energy to master a foreign language. Chinese is considered one of the most difficult languages to master. So why select a foreign language that seems more difficult? In this article, you will learn that mastering Mandarin Chinese reaps many benefits, and it is in some respects easier than learning other European languages.
The Benefits of Mastering Mandarin Chinese
First, Mandarin Chinese is the most spoken language in the world.
- In Proportional Map of the World’s Largest Languages, Arika Okrent shares this interesting data about the languages of the world: “there are 7 billion people on earth and about 7000 languages, but more than half of the world’s population speaks one of just 23 languages.” She uses Alberto Lucas Lopéz ‘s map of a World of Languages to illustrate that Chinese speakers outnumber any other language speakers
The following graph illustrates that 20% of world population speak Chinese. Therefore, if you can speak Chinese, you can communicate nearly one fifth of the world’s population!
- Based on the full resolution of Lopéz ‘s map, Okrent suggests that even if we just count Mandarin Chinese speakers (848 million) they still outstrip English speakers by half a billion.
- Mandarin Chinese speakers can be found around the world, including Mainland China, Taiwan, and Chinese communities throughout Southeast Asia, North and South America, and Europe.
- Chinese is also one of an “official” UN languages.
Second, learning Chinese broadens your cultural horizon by deepening the understanding of your own culture as well as other culture.
- Learning Chinese opens up a window into Chinese history and culture that is five thousand years old. As you learn more about Chinese language, you will gain more understanding about your own culture and a rich oriental culture and civilization.
Third, learning Chinese improves your career opportunities.
- Knowing Chinese will give you an extra edge in a global economy. International corporations that are doing business in the Chinese speaking regions prefer to hire people who can speak Chinese and understand their culture.
- China has the largest population and the fastest growing economy.
- China is the second largest economy in the world.
- China is one of largest trading partners of the United States.
- Global Edge Global Business knowledge provides opportunities for an international career. See Global Professional Search: “language and culture at work–Tomorrow’s Marketplace is Hiring Your Global Skill Set Today.”
In Government and World Organizations
China is assuming an increasingly important role in the world affairs. Chinese language is regarded as one of the major critical languages; governments need Chinese specialists to deal with the affairs related to China. Here are some government careers that require the knowledge of Chinese language and culture:
Federal Foreign Language Careers, for example:
- Language Officer
- Linguist and Language Analyst
- Foreign Language Instructor
- Foreign Service Officer
- UN Careers
China’s growing political, economic, and cultural influence has created great demand for trained and skilled Chinese language teachers. More and more people are learning Chinese; Chinese instructors are needed not only in the governmental sector but also k-12 public and private schools, as well as colleges and universities. You can pursue this teaching profession by obtaining a college and graduate school education in the fields of Chinese Language, Chinese Studies, or East Asian Studies.
Here are job posts for Chinese teaching in the U.S.:
- Chinese Teaching Jobs posted by The Chinese Language Teachers Association, USA
- Chinese Instructor Jobs Posted by Indeed.com
- Job Posts by National Center for K-16 Chinese Language Pedagogy
- HigherEdJobs on Chinese Teaching
Teaching Opportunities overseas: You will have plenty of opportunities to teach English as a second language in China while obtaining a valuable cultural experience and developing your Chinese language skills.
- You can also pursue a career in translation/interpretation or pursue these interests on the side. Qualified translators and interpreters are sought after by private companies, translation agencies, courts, and hospitals. (Here is a list of Top Translation Agencies.)
Other Language-Related Careers
- The above list is not exhaustive. You can also increase your career prospects in journalism, law, medical fields, and many other fields of study by a knowledge of Chinese language. (Here are Ten jobs you didn’t know you could do with a foreign language.)
Fourth, foreign language is one of the core courses required for college admission and graduation.
In High School Course Requirements for College Admissions, Allen Grove points out, college applicants need to make sure to complete a standard core curriculum. According to him, a typical high school core curriculum looks something like this (for example, Bard High School Early College Cleveland requires a minimum of 3 years of foreign language study) :
- Many colleges and universities require at least two semesters of a foreign language as an integral part of the humanities and liberal arts core curriculum.
Fifth, you can have the options of pursuing the following field of study in college.
- A major in Chinese language and Literature or a major in Chinese language and Culture
- A major in an area of your primary interest and a minor in Chinese language
- Double Major (2 languages or 1 language + 1 other discipline in the area of your interest, for instance, double major in Chinese and Business)
- An educational Certification with Teaching Chinese as a Second Language
- One of the following interdisciplinary majors:
- East Asian Studies
- Chinese Studies
- Humanities Program
- International Business
- International Studies
Last, but not the least, learning Chinese is intellectually challenging and beneficial for your cognitive development.
- Brain Benefits of Learning a Second Language
- Learning Chinese Pays Dividends: Of Characters and Cognition
You Can Learn Chinese as Easily as Any Other Foreign Language
Don’t let a starkly different language system deter you from learning Mandarin Chinese. You can learn Chinese as easily as any other foreign language. In some respects Chinese is much easier than other languages. There are no tenses in Chinese verbs! Whether you drink today, you drank last night, you have drunk whole day, or you are drinking right now, you only use ONE verb form in Chinese. Besides no tenses (as seen in #1 below), Chinese grammar is simpler in many other respects:
- No tenses: The verb form never changes. The tenses are indicated by the use of particles to express if an action takes place in the past, present or future.
- No conjugations: There is only one verb form in Chinese.
- No articles: No articles such as in Spanish–le/la/los/las to worry about in Chinese!
- No plurals: For instance, either one table or two tables, the Chinese word for the word “table” would be written the same either it is singular or plural.
- No gender: no masculine, feminine or neuter words. For instance, in Spanish, the word “casa” (home) is feminine; in Chinese, this word, as in many nouns, is genderless.
- No adjectives declensions: Chinese adjectives never change in form. Won’t you say Chinese adjectives are much simpler after comparing them with German adjectives?
- Simple Subject-Verb-Object sentence patterns: Chinese sentences, in general, follow simple Subject-Verb-Object sentence patterns.
Chinese characters may appear insurmountable, but there is logic behind seemingly unfathomable-looking Chinese characters. Most of the characters are logical combinations of a frequently appearing radical (the meaning component) and a Sound component. It may take some time to acquire the knowledge of all 214 essential radicals that are associated with the meaning of each word. However, as you increasingly learn the most frequently used radicals, learning how to read and write Chinese gets easier. For example, 妈 (ma) is made up of 女 and 马 （ma). 女 （nu） is the radical meaning “woman”, 马 （ma) is the phonetic part of this character. 女(Nu) is used in words that are associated with female, (such as “aunt”, “sister”, girl, etc.) Once you get a handle of the essential radicals, it will help you learn Chinese characters. Like grammar, even characters, in some respects, are simpler than other Romanized European languages. In English, you have different names for meats (venison, mutton, pork, beef, etc.), Chinese simply add an animal name with the word meat “肉” （rou), for instance, mutton (羊肉: yangrou) consists of these two parts: 羊（”yang”: sheep）+ 肉 （”rou”: meat). You have different English vocabularies for different months, but in Chinese, you simply add a number (1 to 12) before the word “month” (“yue”：月) and that accounts for 12 months of a year! The vocabularies for the days of a week are likewise created this way as well (except the Chinese word for Sunday).
The following videos further debunk the theory that Chinese is too hard to learn. With willingness to put in the time and effort, you can master Chinese language (Chinese characters, vocabulary, and grammar) without too much difficulty.
Below are videos that recap the reasons for Learning Mandarin Chinese:
In a nut shell, learning Chinese reaps many benefits and YOU CAN LEARN IT! As Confucius said, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Once you take on this learning journey, you will never get bored in your life! As one of the oldest languages and cultures that have evolved over thousands of years, this learning will enrich your life. Either you are native or non-native speakers, you can always challenge yourself to reach new heights!
Get yourself ready to meet the challenges in this increasingly interconnected globalized world. When opportunities come, you are ready!
Related Article: Why Learn a Foreign Language
“I will prepare and some day my chance will come.”
― Abraham Lincoln
“Fortune favors the prepared mind.” — Louis Pasteur
“Learn everything you can, anytime you can, from anyone you can, there will always come a time when you will be grateful you did.”― Sarah Caldwell
“The future belongs to those who prepare for it today.”—Malcolm X
“One secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.”—Benjamin Disraeli