Studying Chinese in China – Why Do It?

20 May

Studying Mandarin in China is a really good idea, for those that feel that they can hack it. Luckily the language is not as hard to learn as it first can seem.

For people who’s mother tongue is either derived from the Latin or Germanic linguistic branches it is difficult to learn to speak Mandarin. As an economic decision it may seem to many than Mandarin is just not worth the effort it takes to learn. I would like to challenge this notion with two arguments. First, Mandarin is not as hard to learn as people that only glances at the task makes it out to be. Second, to learn Mandarin opens up a great deal of doors that other languages can’t touch.

So what do people find so hard about Mandarin? Firstly, the language is a pain to pronounce for people whose tongue is not used to tones. You see, the language is not only dependent on syllables, there are also pitch modulations involved that designates which meaning a particular syllable is meant to convey. The language is also contextual in way that western languages are not: a particular syllable pronounced with a particular pitch modulation can have many different meanings taken on its own, it is only in the context of a sentence that the meaning is clear. The second matter that makes learning Mandarin difficult is that there is no alphabet to describe the above complexities. Instead, as you are probably already aware, the language, like many other Asian languages, is written using characters (picture-like symbols) composed by strokes and groups of strokes (radicals). Now, that is all really really confusing, in the beginning, and the grammar is to not the easiest walk in the park either. But like any other learning experience, learning Mandarin has its own learning curve, and the fact of the matter is that Mandarin’s curve is much steeper in the beginning than it is after a few months of studying. Once you get used to the arcane workings of Mandarin linguistics the effort to increase the scope and depth of your vocabulary is much easier than the initial struggle to get the first few hundred under your belt. When you pass the 1000 word marker your brain will be attuned to the Mandarin system and the learning curve will be flatter still.

I know many people that have learned to speak Mandarin fluently; actual Chinese people when speaking on the phone can mistake many of my friends for being Chinese. The particular thing that makes learning Mandarin worth it is this: everyone of my friends that have learned to speak Mandarin have incredibly cool jobs that they could never have gotten in their home country. Firstly, a western education is still bounds and leaps a head of a Chinese education. Almost all top-level managers in China have gotten their degrees elsewhere. That is not something that goes unnoticed when you are working on a lower level within the Chinese economy, the economy that is by far the fasters growing one today. A really cute French girl in her late twenties that one of my best friends used to date is a prime example of the opportunities that are granted people that achieve bilingual status. She runs her own department within a modern art dealership and acts as a conduit between the west and China, she was one of the first people I met in China and her story since arriving in China is truly amazing. Since learning Mandarin her career has had Apollonian trajectory and she claims that the combination of western education and mandarin proficiency accounts for 95% of the rocket fuel. Another friend of mine, also involved in the arts, namely as a videographe, claims that his art career is also fueled by that ability to communicate his pretty amazing ideas in Mandarin. He muses that it is less the originality of his ideas that is the reason that he has received funding for 3 major installation projects than the fact that they are unique to China. He is one of many with similar ideas world wide, but in China he is one of a kind.

Rui Ming works for a Mandarin Language School in China that is a great option for those that want to study mandarin, the lingua franca of the growing economic powerhouse. See the program overview page for more information about studying Mandarin in China.


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