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Is it worth learning Chinese?

March 27, 2019

Screen Shot 2019-03-27 at 7.09.59 AM

A hard question to answer, because the answer is different for every person, and in fact each person probably has several answers. The essay below is by a young Chinese-American woman who’s now living in China. It touches on some important points about our sometimes unthinking presumption that if a young person is fluent in both English and Chinese, the world will be their oyster. Not necessarily, and less so as more overseas Chinese return to China, fluent in both languages and with cultural contacts.

Above all, remember that we’re not putting our kids in Mandarin immersion because it’s a conveyor belt to a great job. We’re doing it to give them options later in life, just as we make them study geometry and pre-calc so if they choose, they have the option of doing math and science based studies in college.

My takeaways are these:

  • Learning Chinese gives you the ability to talk to about 1/7th of the people on the planet. In and of itself, this is a wonderful thing.
  • Chinese is a beautiful, rich language with 3,000 years of history.
  • Learning Chinese teaches you perseverance.
  • Learning Chinese teaches you how to memorize (a skill that’s actually still quite useful in the world.)
  • Learning Chinese opens your eyes to a much broader world.

That said, if you really want to use your Chinese in the work world, you need to do more:

  • You’ll need skills that make you someone companies in China, Taiwan or Singapore want to hire.
  • You should probably get a double degree, or a major/minor, in an area with job opportunities and in Chinese, so you have those skills in addition to your language skills.
  • Even if you study a liberal arts topic, take a few economics/business courses. It’s always useful to be able to understand how money works. And everyone should be able to use spreadsheets, they’re a remarkably powerful and yet simple-to-use tool for studying information. [Note: I say this as someone with a degree in Swedish literature, and yet I’ve done just fine in life. But I do wish I’d taken a few business classes in college.]
  • Do a summer or semester or year abroad in China or Taiwan, and when your Chinese is good enough, take some classes in Chinese.


The Actual Worth Of Chinese Language Proficiency

By Frankie Huang

SupChina March 20, 2019

There’s an argument currently happening on Chinese social media about the value of learning English. The very same conversation can be had about foreigners learning Chinese.

Unfortunately, the answers aren’t the same.

A debate over the necessity of English language skills has dominated the Chinese internet these last few days, sparked by a patriotic internet personality who proclaimed English to be a “trash skill” and a waste of time. Many have responded that while they are held hostage by educational and employment requirements for English proficiency, there is in fact substantial demand for Chinese workers fluent in English in the job market.

Demand for foreigners who speak Chinese, on the other hand, is a different story.

A few weeks ago, I inadvertently started a small feud in the China-watching corner of Twitter over the importance of Chinese proficiency for job acquisition and career advancement in China. My tweet that set it off was a bitter one: “No, being fluent in Chinese does not tend to make you a stronger job candidate even in fields where it makes sense, like marketing, finance or international trade. You’d think so, but no. Take it from someone who has to live with this and stop helpfully telling me otherwise.”

Please read more here.

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