Mandarin learning – a fad?
Is the current craze for learning Mandarin Chinese a misguided fad? An article in The Economist I found today suggests that it might be.
Mandarin is now taught at over 400 secondary schools in the UK, and the Specialist Schools and Academies Trust would like to see it made part of the national curriculum. Around the world there are some 30 million people studying Mandarin at the moment, and the Chinese government expects that number to rise to 100 million by 2010.
The article argues that for most people, a knowledge of Mandarin is unlikely to result in a better career. A number of factors are put forward to support this statement: the difficultly of learning Mandarin when compared to most other languages, especially European languages, which means that very few who study Mandarin attain a high level of competence in the language. The lack of regard among British employers for languages skills is another factor. Finally the fact that the Chinese are busy learning English means that British people doing business with China are unlikely to need a knowledge of Mandarin.
The article concludes with a comment from a representative of a Beijing employment agency, who says that:
whereas the value of compensation packages for expat executives has been shrinking over the past ten years, the number of Chinese-speaking foreigners she handles has been rising. Better language skills, she reckons, are a product less of market demand than of a general enthusiasm for China. Reason enough, perhaps, to learn the language.
By the way, I don’t agree with the article myself. Learning any language is a worthwhile endeavour, even if you only acquire the basics. While a knowledge of Mandarin might not automatically lead to a job, learning it certainly isn’t a waste of your time and effort.