“Even the KFC menu was just in Chinese,” reported an Indian man traveling in Shanghai and expecting to be able to communicate in English, what he had always believed to be the international language of business. The Wall Street Journal and many other agencies have been covering Mandarin’s rising star. They suggest that as Mandarin flourishes not only in the business capitals of its homeland, the rest of the world is deciding that there may be more benefits to learning the language than just ordering an American chicken burger in China.
Is This Just a Trend?
Mandarin-speaking nannies, Mandarin-speaking chauffeurs, Mandarin-speaking personal assistants—is this rage to learn Mandarin simply a fad, the new darling of language instruction? While it appears that many are in a dizzying tizzy to learn Mandarin and have their young children learn Mandarin too, reports suggest that the race to learn the language is logical, indeed. International businesses are also clamoring to learn Mandarin as more and more seek to do business with China.
According to a feature by Project Syndicate, “There is not a single business anywhere in the world that has not felt China’s impact” and globally this impact might be described as more than three trillion dollars in foreign reserves. As China’s economic presence is felt, so too has its cultural identity—its language—gone along for the ride.
While Mandarin is taking off in places like board rooms and nurseries, it may surprise no one that it is also likely to saturate the internet. Discovery News asserted that “English will soon be replaced by Chinese as the most popular language on the Internet.” In January of this year, Computer World reported that “China’s Internet population reached 564 million at the end of December” and that “China’s Internet population ranks as the world’s largest.”
The Might of Mandarin
The Times of India reported that “The power of language is often perceived to be proportional to the economic strength of a country.” “As China’s economy grows,” reports Business Insider, “so too does its personal wealth. The Middle Kingdom is now the world’s second largest economy behind the US and has more than 1.4 million millionaires. These affluent individuals are keen to take their money out of China and invest it in stable financial hubs.” It stands to reason that the business community of these hubs may want to garner an edge and facilitate a relationship with China by promoting the Mandarin language.
Are Nannies Enough?
No one seems to advise against learning Mandarin; that is, no one believes the necessity to communicate effectively with China on, at least, a business platform is a passing trend. The numbers suggest otherwise. What is lamented in various news reports, however, is that there is a decided shortage of Mandarin teachers in the West. While nannies are one way to give children a Mandarin head start, not all Mandarin-speakers are equipped to teach the difficult language.
The International Business Times suggested that “Mandarin is becoming increasingly important in the business world” but that in Western locales like the UK “‘It is delusional to think that many children are going to benefit from Mandarin teaching when there are only a handful of such teachers in the country’.” While there is no shortage of interest in learning the language at the youth or adult level, there has been difficulty finding and funding enough effective language programs to meet the increasing demands.
Confucius to the Rescue
In response to the need to learn Mandarin, China has backed various Confucius Institutes around the world that help spread Chinese language and culture outside of China. Headquartered in Beijing, the institute sends its teachers everywhere from Mongolia to Chicago. Voice of America reported that “there are more than three hundred Confucius Institutes in almost one hundred countries.” Additionally, the institute pays half the salary for each teacher it sends abroad to a grade school, university, organization, etc…
The Need for Effective Mandarin Instruction
For those business professionals who are unable to quit their day jobs and head for an immersion experience in China, there are sure to be increasing numbers of multilingual professionals and language learning programs that will address this growing need for Mandarin instruction. Language “meet-ups” where Mandarin can be practiced are sprouting up in major cities like New York and Vancouver.
Fortunately, global businesses can rely upon translation services and their multilingual professionals. They may certainly be needed as business with China continues to escalate. The Mandarin language isn’t particularly easy for Westerners, so businesses may want to start language learning incentives sooner rather than later. The U.S. State Department asserts “that to achieve proficiency in Chinese, 88 weeks of work are needed, half of that time will be required for Russian, while 24 weeks is needed to learn Spanish or French,” reports CNN.
Of course, these weeks relate to professional instruction. It may take untold weeks to learn by other methods. Though if the trend for reality television holds—and it has held in spite of the naysayers—some Western producer might want to get that pilot filmed for Mandarin Nanny 911 to the Rescue; it’s likely to have an audience. This writer suggests filming begin in that Shanghai KFC since “finger-lickin’-good” is understood in all languages.