Why Study Chinese?
What you might already know
China is one of the world’s oldest and richest continuous cultures, over 5000 years old.
China is the most populous nation in the world, with 1.28 billion people.
One fifth of the planet speaks Chinese. Mandarin Chinese 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.
China is the second largest economy in the world.
China is one of largest trading partners of the United States.
Many US companies do business in China and have long-term investments there.
Things to consider
The study of the Chinese language opens the way to different important fields such as Chinese politics, economy, history or archaeology. But to study Chinese finally 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, film. They reflect the values, the struggles, the sensibility, the joys and the sorrows of this great people and often offer insights even into the most intimate feelings of people in the past or into high-level Beijing politics at he present that cannot be found anywhere else. These works help you understand what is behind the language, what makes it powerful, and how it actually functions in Chinese society. 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 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:
Currently Mandarin Chinese is spoken by over 1 billion people around the world, about one fifth of the global population;
Each year more and more students around the world whose mother tongue is not Mandarin are studying it with enthusiasm and success. If they all can learn it, so can you!
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 with them that is crucial for effective communication.