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jkhsu

Is Learning Chinese a Bubble?

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jkhsu

The medical and legal field always need bilingual speakers.

Most of the bilingual jobs are for natives of that (foreign) language who can also speak English. If you are an English speaking native, and you qualify for that bilingual job, then most likely you devoted a good part of your education and time to learning that language well. Nothing wrong with that at all. But I think that's not the topic of this discussion. This discussion is about why is everyone getting on the bandwagon of learning Chinese and whether it will really be of any benefit to them in the future.

Maybe that's what you see

There's no doubt that if your job deals with recently arrived immigrants, ESL, or language education, etc, you would need to know that foreign language. I don't have any problem with people who are learning a foreign language and know they want to be in a field (regardless of pay) where they will use the language. I think it's great. The problem I am having is people learning Chinese "to prepare" for the future so that they can "compete" with others for jobs inside the USA. For most jobs you're going to be hired because you are good at what you do and not because you happen to know Chinese, except for those directly involving Chinese as I've mentioned.

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Silent
I think my question is what is the likelyhood for someone who has spent a good amount of their education and career in particular field to pick up Chinese at the level where they can communicate topics in that field? Learning Chinese just to chat is hard enough.

I don't think discussing the topics is that big an issue. The issue is to get to a decent language level so you can properly express your ideas. After that discussing any topic is basicly only adding a little vocabulary. Sure, it'll take a few years, at least, to get to such a level. If you're not willing to make that effort there's no use to learn the language from a professional point of view.

You talk about a lecture, there an interpreter may work as it's pretty much one way communication provided you can find one with sufficient knowledge of the subject. But you really want to use an interpreter when detailed engineering issues have to be discussed with an engineer from the customer/supplier? As a child we used to pick a frase, tell it a neighbour and so on, after only a couple of people there was nothing left of the original phrase. No translation or language barriers were involved. I frequently have discussions with colleagues, again no language barriers, where only a very small unclear detail results in a lot of confusion. An interpreter would make it virtually impossible to clarify such issue's. Direct communication, even with modest language skills is often much better.

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jkhsu

An interpreter would make it virtually impossible to clarify such issue's. Direct communication, even with modest language skills is often much better.

In theory you are absolutely right. But in practice, you'd have to spend quite a bit of time to get your Chinese to that level and then it's the opportunity cost. If you could say get a graduate degree in the specific field vs. learn Chinese for 2 years, what would make you choose Chinese? And again, I'm talking about living in the USA. I've done outsourcing work where I work with technical folks from China on conference calls. We speak English. There's usually always a project manager who can speak Engilsh.

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drungood

If learning Chinese is just as much of a chore to you as anything else you could be doing to advance your career, you might as well do something more related. But for me this is not the case. I am able to study Chinese in my free time and enjoy it, and compared to other leisure activities like watching TV or playing video games, it is very beneficial. If I spent most of my free time studying things directly related to my career, I would be miserable, because it feels like work. But for Chinese this is not the case.

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Silent
In theory you are absolutely right. But in practice, you'd have to spend quite a bit of time to get your Chinese to that level and then it's the opportunity cost.

This is not only theory, also practically true. And opportunity costs? Anything you learn and study is in some extent a gamble. I see no way to calculate that as language learning (exposure) may also serve as entertainment and relaxation instead of work/study. In the end it also is of little interest as you should do what feels good to you. Also for children there will be virtually no opportunity cost as they learn languages through exposure and playing. It's mainly a matter of exposing them enough and in the right ways to the language.

And again, I'm talking about living in the USA. I've done outsourcing work where I work with technical folks from China on conference calls. We speak English.

I've no clue about the USA. I've never been there and in the foreseeable future I've no intent to go there unless some-one is going to pay me for it. So I've no clue what the situation is over there. The only thing that I say is that I absolutely see benefits in knowing Chinese or any other major language. You seem to want to limit the scope to the extent that there's is no added value. If you have no intent to learn the language properly and want to limit the scope to only a very limited area you're right. In that case it will be very hard to build a business case that shows a profit.

When I learned English I had no business case for it either. The same for the French, Spanish, German and Dutch I had to learn. Now I can't imagine how I would survive without all the (basic) language skills. Also my history, geography, biology, and a score of other classes had no business case and many seem to run at a huge deficit. Even my BSc didn't bring directly what I had hoped for. Does this mean it was all useless? I don't think so, to me it just means that many things are not predictable and depend on coincidence. Consequently I believe it may be better to have a broader scope than only an uncertain profitable business case.

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xiaotao
This discussion is about why is everyone getting on the bandwagon of learning Chinese and whether it will really be of any benefit to them in the future.

No one (or parent) knows for sure if there will be rewards to learning Chinese. A long while back, learning Japanese was popular. I don't see the popularity of learning Chinese going away. I see the road being extremely bright for kids who have (non Chinese) parents already established in business in China. Some people don't learn Chinese for future economical gain.

The problem I am having is people learning Chinese "to prepare" for the future so that they can "compete" with others for jobs inside the USA.

It sounds like you are worried about non Chinese people competing for jobs with Chinese Americans.

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jkhsu

It sounds like you are worried about non Chinese people competing for jobs with Chinese Americans.

Huh? Where did you get this idea? Where does Chinese Americans come into this discussion?

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yellowpower

in the 70's and 80's, think that German and Japanese were the touted languages of the future..then boom and bust in these economies so many were learning these languages, they're still around today but not that popular as before.

So with China in the boom cycle with all the potential of endless growth, Mandarin is the language of currency and posperity. At least until China's economy matures and stagnates like everyone else's. Think the idea of learning and appreciating different cultures and world view points can be gained from learning any foreign language.

Many people also learning HOT languages like Arabic, Hindi, Korean as these languages are seen as the new growth engines....

is there a bubble or bust syndrome bulit into learning foreign languages, depends on motives of individuals and whether these are realistic. Think educational institutions want to prepare students in some ways to meet the challenges of the future, so learning foreign languages is one option that they provide.

As a fallback, language majors should consider seeking specialisation in another field to widen employment opportunities.

Learning any language just makes life more interesting and enjoyable, to me at least.

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jbradfor

jkhsu, I agree with you that for most non-language majors, learning a second (or more....) language is not going to be a path to riches, whether that language is Chinese or whatever. [And for language majors, there pretty much is no path to riches.] And I don't see Chinese becoming the global language; for better or worse I think English is here to stay, and in 50-100 years I see it becoming without a doubt the dominant world-wide language. That said, let me give you two examples of where I think learning a foreign language does pay dividends in the USA: study abroad, and my situation.

I think everyone should study abroad at some point in their education, preferably at a place that speaks a different language. What one learns about ones own culture, ones owns personality, and the other culture pays dividends for ones lifetime. And learning the foreign language is a obviously a pre-req for that.

Without going into too much detail to bore everyone here, I don't see any other skill I could learn that would be better for my career than Chinese. While it is true that I am learning it only as a hobby, part of me realizes it has job benefits as well. I already have a PhD in a field that is in demand and pays (reasonably) well, and years work experience in that field. I don't want to go into the business side, so I see no point in an MBA. To get equivalent education and work experience in another technical field that pays as well would easily take 10-15 years. That is not to say I have nothing to learn about my current job; I do have a lot to learn still, but the only way to learn it is on the job. So how does Chinese fit it? If I were to lose my job soon, I'm fairly confident I could find a new job in China without much problem (at a lower wage, I'm sure). The more Chinese I know, I believe the more choices of jobs I would have, and likely the more I would get paid.

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jkhsu

The same for the French, Spanish, German and Dutch I had to learn. Now I can't imagine how I would survive without all the (basic) language skills...Does this mean it was all useless? I don't think so, to me it just means that many things are not predictable and depend on coincidence.

You're right, might as well cast the net wide and as you mentioned if your child is going to learn a foreign language, why not Chinese? The opportunity cost is low at that time.

I think everyone should study abroad at some point in their education, preferably at a place that speaks a different language.

I couldn't agree with you more. This is something I really wished I did when I was in college or maybe minored in Chinese. Also on being able to find a job in China (when / if I need to), this is one of the reasons why I'm learning as well. I went through several job interviews when I was in China and realized my Chinese skills were lacking quite a bit. I couldn't make enough money staying there so I had to come back, get a job and continue learning on the side.

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Meng Lelan
this is a topic that I always bring up with people, especially those paying a lot of money for their kids to learn Chinese. The answer I keep on getting is something like "China is going to take over the world and we must prepare our kids to gain an advantage in the future workforce, etc. etc.". But, even if China takes over the world, I still don't get how Chinese can become that important if you live outside of China.

In some cities in the US you don't have a pay a lot. There are public immersion schools for Chinese language in Minnesota, Oregon, Washington DC, and so forth, the list keeps growing, unfortunately there isn't one in Texas (which is ridiculous and I want that to change) but if there were one in Texas, I would send my kids there not because "China is going to take over the world" but because I see monolingualism as an idiotic concept that needs to become extinct in this era of global communication.

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Kurtz

In my view, unless you are studying Chinese full time, it will be difficult to attain any level of fluency without a passion for the language and culture. Given the time investment required to attain a decent level of fluency, I don't think that a simple desire to improve ones career prospects is enough.

In addition, I think you have to have either a high level of fluency, or work in a niche area, in order for Chinese skills to have any impact. For example, in my area (law), it used to be fairly easy to obtain a posting in Hong Kong, Singapore or China with minimal Chinese skills, as these used to be seen as hardship postings. These days, such jurisdictions are fashionable (and overlawyered) and you really need to have native level Mandarin and/or Cantonese to work there.

Also, I don't know if anyone has read the following article, but it puts an interesting spin on how the views of Chinese employers might be changing...

http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2011/07/27/thoughts-on-an-american-job-applicant-on-chinese-tv#more-5367

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lansu

It's odd that few people on this thread mention the ability to read literature in the original language; by "literature" I mean anything from the classics to the daily newspapers, from poetry to prose...There is some advantage in being able to interpret Chinese culture for yourself, and I should mention the sheer joy of being able to read a novel, or watch a film without subtitles...The rest is commercialism, and I'm not an expert in that field...

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jkhsu

In some cities in the US you don't have a pay a lot.

That's what I was trying to say, they're US government sponsored. There's one where I live and it's really hard to get in. I also wish there were programs like Middlebury in other parts of the country for maybe grade school or high school kids. Agreed on killing the monolingualism concept.

In my view, unless you are studying Chinese full time, it will be difficult to attain any level of fluency without a passion for the language and culture.

Just for reference, I've got a whole thread on learning Chinese outside of China part-time here

Thank you also for sending out the link to the article. I think for most of the people in this forum, especially those who have spent a considerable amount of time in China, you're preaching to the choir when talking about improving one's career in China. You are right that the landscape is changing and the expectations on language ability is increasing. At the same time, I believe most people who are serious about getting a job in China know you can't just come in as an English teacher and get some management position at a multi-national company just because they are a foreigner. When I was in Shanghai several years ago, I attended a few multi-school MBA alumni events and I can tell you that the toughest competition for anyone will be the "returning Chinese", those who grew up in China, attended top colleges and grad schools in the USA, then have gone back to China to work or start businesses. People like Robin Li, founder of Baidu and Lee Kai Fu, former head of Google in China, all have this background.

Another thing is that to be competitive in China you need a more deeper knowledge of the China market. Check out this link. The GMAC head would choose CEIBS over Harvard Business School for his kids!

http://poetsandquants.com/2011/02/02/advice-from-gmacs-chief-go-east-young-man/

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gato
No it's not. You ever been to Texas? Vermont? If you've learned Spanish or French as a second language then you can have a definite career benefit working with those coming in from Mexico or those coming in from Quebec especially in services, for example hotels, business, education, travel, etc.

I doubt it. Why would learning Spanish as a foreign language help you get a job in Texas? There are so many who are native-level in both Spanish and English in Texas.

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Meng Lelan
There are so many who are native-level in both Spanish and English in Texas.

Yes but not all of them have college degrees and/or legal documentation to work in Texas. For example we need a deaf ed teacher who speaks both English and Spanish but we can't find one.

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gato
For example we need a deaf ed teacher who speaks both English and Spanish but we can't find one.

For teaching deaf Mexican kids? Is there a Spanish version of sign language?

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imron

Probably also for communicating with the parents of deaf Mexican kids.

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Meng Lelan
For teaching deaf Mexican kids? Is there a Spanish version of sign language?

Deaf Mexican kids can speak Spanish too they don't have to be signing. Especially the ones with cochlear implants.

Now that I think of it, I've got three deaf students who only speak Spanish right now, none of them need or use sign language. One of them with a cochlear implant, two with hearing aids. But their assessment and instruction has to be in Spanish until they reach a certain level in their ESL classes.

There is indeed Spanish sign language just like there is Chinese sign language, Japanese sign language etc etc and no they do not look alike.

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