Why Study Chinese?
China is one of the world’s oldest and richest continuous cultures, over 5000 years old. It is also the most populous nation in the world, with 1.28 billion people. One fifth of the people of the planet speaks Chinese and Mandarin is the mother tongue of over 873 million people, making it the most widely spoken first language in the world. In addition to the People’s Republic of China and Taiwan, Mandarin Chinese is also spoken in the important and influential Chinese communities of Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines, and Mongolia. Additionally, China is the second largest economy in the world.
Things to consider
The study of the Chinese language opens the way to different important fields such as Chinese politics, economy, history, archaeology, etc. But to study Chinese it also means to study a culture, a people. At the heart of Chinese civilization is its rich heritage of novels, short stories, poetry, drama, and, more recently, its films. All these reflect the values, the struggles, the joys and the sorrows of this great people and often offer insights even into the most intimate feelings of people. To be at ease and effective in a Chinese environment learning the language is half the battle, but knowing about the culture behind the language is the other.
Some surprising facts
Chinese has a relatively uncomplicated grammar. Unlike French, German or English, Chinese has no verb conjugation (no need to memorize verb tenses!) and no noun declension (e.g., gender and number distinctions). For example, while someone who is learning English has to learn different verb forms like “see/saw/seen,” all you need to do in Chinese is just to remember one word: kan. While in English you have to distinguish between “cat” and “cats,” in Chinese there is only one form: mao. (Chinese conveys these distinctions of tense and number in other ways, of course.)
The basic word order of Chinese is subject — verb — object, exactly as in English. A large number of the key terms of Mandarin Chinese (such as the terms for state, health, science, party, inflation, and even literature) have been formed as translations of English concepts. You are entering a different culture, but the content of many of the modern key concepts is familiar.
Remember these two facts:
The study of Chinese literature and culture will help you bridge the cultural gap, better understand your Chinese counterparts, and create a platform of knowledge and understanding that is crucial for effective communication.
Chinese is important for your career!