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889

"Will Americans Really Learn Chinese?"

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atitarev

The fact that German is well preserved in Germany gives credit to the German government.

One thing: like in Russia, most movies in Germany are dubbed, not subtitled. Subtitled movies are good for language learners and bad for the language preservation. It's a long argument. I noticed a big difference between knowledge of English in Norway compared to Germany. In Norway they speak better English and use it more often. Foreigners feel they get away with knowing just English, don't bother learning Norwegian. Norwegians don't care. In Germany both the attitude to their language is different and knowledge of English is different. More so in France.

Some people say that you lose the flavour of the movie if it's dubbed, you don't hear the original voices. Quality of both dubbing and subtitling is very important. In Australia, foreign movies are not too popular because they are subtitled.

So far in Russia, you don't have to know English in most of the country. The interest is growing but it's not as big and there are not so many tourists or businessmen.

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eatfastnoodle

I still think if there were an economy, an society, a culture (including various forms of pop culture) that are largely self-contained are the determining factor regarding if there is incentive for the citizens of certain country to actively learn and practice another language (again, with regard to Spanish,spanish is arguably the most popular foreign language in the US, probably the 1st choice for most non-Hispanic Americans if they decided that they need or want to learn a foreign language, but that's because of the usefulness and practicality of learning spanish for residents of the US, not anything innate to Spanish or even the appeal of hispanic culture.). Most countries (Japan, China, US and Russia) I know that are notoriously bad in penetration of foreign language skills all have largely self-contained economy, society and culture and of decent size. It's not like there is no investment, interest or fluffy incentive in learning foreign languages in these countries. In Japan, I heard that fluency in English can gain you major points in the dating scene, yet Japanese's English is notoriously bad; China, English is part of the curriculum and required every time there is a test, yet, vast majority of Chinese could barely compose a coherent sentence, despite all the effort and money they spent on English in school; I've never been to Russia, but from what I heard, Russia is probably one of the least accessible country for foreign visitors, even in major cities like Moscow or Saint Petersburg; there are probably more investment in setting up foreign languages courses in the curriculum than most other countries, yet, with the exception of Spanish, none of the popular or "lucrative" foreign languages takes root in the general public, and those who took it in school quickly forgot it for the most part.

In sum, no use, no practice, no skill in foreign language, it doesn't matter how much money the government invests in or what kind of supposedly great benefit one particular language could bring to your future career.

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gougou

So what exactly is your point? Can you make it in one sentence?

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BrandeX
"Will Americans Really Learn Chinese?"

No.

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Erbse

While there is little need for US Americans to learn any language beside English, they still should do it. Learning a foreign language not only helps to understand that language, but also allows the learner to grasp ideas, values and culture outside of Englishland. Also the learner acquires the techniques to learn a language.

It doesn't matter which language (Chinese,Spanish, Estonian, ...), simply learning a foreign language will have benefits to the brain.

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wushijiao
The role of language in Indian movies in India. They are made in 15 languages! Hindi is the biggest for the North and 4 languages for the South - Tamil, Telugu, Kannada and Malayalam. Their idea of multiculturalism is reflected in their movies - they mix different languages, especially in Hindi movies, to show how open-minded they are.

When I was in India recently, I read an article about the burgeoning Bengali film industry--- although I'm not sure to what extent movies are popular outside of their own language community. In any case, the language situation in India is really quite fascinating.

As to the original question, I pretty much agree with eatfastnoodle's analysis of why certain cultures are bad at languages.

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889

If I'd framed the original question myself, I would have asked instead whether studying Chinese is just a passing fad.

So can I ask those enrolled in entry-level programs, how many of your classmates -- certainly not you, yourselves! -- are there largely because learning Chinese just seems to be the thing to do these days?

This has been discussed in at least one other forum, where some posters compared it with the craze for Japanese studies a couple of decades or so ago, which I gather has now been replaced by a passion for Putonghua.

http://www.pekingduck.org/2007/11/is-the-rush-to-study-chinese-a-time-wasting-fad/

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tooironic
In Australia, foreign movies are not too popular because they are subtitled.

No Anatoli I think you'll find Aussies on the whole don't watch foreign films because they are anglocentric. :P Which is ironic as we have one of the largest and most multilingual public subtitling units in the world (SBS)...

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atitarev

Very true, Carl. It would seem so easy to learn languages and be familiar with different cultures but it only applies to different types of cuisine at best.

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Bob161

Re: "Will Americans Really Learn Chinese?"

No.

1. American's haven't even taken the time to learn Spanish, a language that is easily accessible to a large swath of the America. As it was pointed out earlier, many Hispanics lose functional use of their language within three generations. At best they end up speaking a sort of dysfunctional spanglish, unless their families make a concerted effort to retain their language.

Add to that the lack of desire to learn Spanish by non-hispanics, some of whom go so far as fighting against bilingual education when it would help the most, in elementary. There is no effort to maintain, much less spread the language where it would be the easiest and most useful to do it.

2. (and this is IMO) Americans are largely driven by their pop culture. Many of the new words that we add to English every year come from, or are references to pop-culture. (Like 2009's word of the year "unfriend:" to remove someone from your social networking sites) There is little cultural interest in learning another language. Even when we import the cultural items, we translate the works to English. The best example of this is the thriving J-Pop sub culture. Millions of dollars are made every year on Anime and Manga sales, Japanese styled or produced video games, Japanese toys and figurines, and more...Yet non of the suburban white kids who buy that stuff make the effort to learn Japanese (even though it's a point of pride for them to listen to their anime in Japanese with subtitles, instead of dubbed).

Chinese will remain the sole province of native speakers and those with a deep cultural interest in China.

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Ah-Bin

I reckon Bob161 has really hit the nail on the head. Forget about the intrinsic difficulty and time taken to learn character scripts, apathy will win all the time.

Also, even if English-speaking countries cease to dominate the world economically and politically, I think English will be around for a long time to come in some form or another. It's easier to write, and easier to speak badly.

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creamyhorror

Chinese is mostly a hobby or a cultural pursuit, even here in Singapore where we get a good deal of Chinese influence (Taiwan, HK, China). Singaporean companies are just too linked to the English-using business world to make learning Chinese a real necessity. There are firms here and there which have consistent dealings with Chinese firms, but you can avoid Chinese-speaking requirements by and large. (I imagine it's even more so for American companies.)

Chinese for business is more relevant to people who are intending to establish businesses in or relating to China. This is, of course, extremely difficult and not likely to pay off except for a small fraction of the intrepid entrepreneurs on this path. So it doesn't add much weight to the importance of Chinese for business purposes.

If I'm wrong about this, please tell me, because I'd really like to find real inroads into doing business in/with China.

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