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Canadian former Finance Minister: Learn Asian Languages!

November 11, 2012

BILL CURRY AND SEAN SILCOFF

OTTAWA — The Globe and Mail

Published Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012, 4:00 AM EDT

Last updated Wednesday, Oct. 17 2012, 4:45 AM EDT

The voice of Canada’s CEOs is urging parents to enroll their kids in Asian language classes to match them with the growing appetite of employers for multilingual workers.

John Manley, the former finance minister who now heads the Canadian Council of Chief Executives, said it is time for a national debate over how to encourage new language skills as part of the country’s trade efforts.

Please read more here.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Marnie Dunsmore permalink
    November 28, 2012 5:03 pm

    I am a Canadian/American. I’m going to comment here on John Manley’s statement.

    First, I will reiterate the comments of some of the readers’ responses to the article:

    “Fine, he can encourage Harper to fund this initiative, which Harper will not. I for one would be horrified if anyone other than a native speaker of the language in question would enrol their kids in say Mandarin lessons before the other official language, English or French.”

    “Anyway, Mr Manley, society and governments do not exist to support corporations, it’s supposed to be the other way around!”

    “How about learning more than just other people’s languages? Perhaps learn a bit more about the geography and history of our own hemisphere, for instance. It’s shameful how our schools teach nothing about the Americas south of the Rio Grande.”

    “Not sure I want to heed advice from one who was on the board while Nortel collapsed. I doubt another language would have helped that disaster. Perhaps a strong finance background would have been useful? Right Mr. Finance Minister?”

    “I speak Mandarin but it has never done me a bit of good financially. For some jobs yes it will help, but not all.”

    For the record, I am one Canadian (originally) who learned French, not Mandarin, as my second language. I also know a little Greek and a little German. Greek and French also help in being able to read Spanish. I have found that these languages are tremendously useful in business, the sciences and in the context of enjoying and understanding history and literature. I also frequently encounter people in North America who fluently speak these languages, so over the long run, I’ve been able to continue language acquisition, especially with Greek and French.

    I am not saying that Mandarin might not also provide some of the same advantages, but the difficulty in reading and writing Mandarin probably will limit its usefulness to a North American over the long run. It should be kept in mind that, Mandarin is rated by the Foreign Service Institute Language Difficulty Rating as a Category V language (most difficult). German is a category II and Spanish/French are category I (easiest) languages.

    I’m sure that for the few that have a parent that is a fluent Mandarin speaker, it might be possible to become fluent here in North America. However, for those who don’t, the investment of time and resources in Mandarin acquisition will likely be expensive and on average will mean opportunity lost in other learning areas.

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