Why Learn Chinese?

Learning Chinese is worthwhile because China is now one of the most important countries in the world. Thirty years ago China began--under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping--to open up to the outside world. As part of its opening, China transformed its economy from a traditionally communist state-run system to one that gave individuals and private businesses much more economic freedom. As a result, in the last 30 years China has become "the world's factory". Look at almost any product nowadays--from toys and clothes to cell phones and applliances. Many were made in China.

But when we buy things from China we aren't just importing their products--we are sometimes importing problems, such as poor product safety.

Anyone who listens to the news also knows that China has lent the U.S. huge amounts of money--about a trillion dollars. So, with so much economic involvement with China--and so much dependency on China for products and money--it is important to be able to communicate effectively with China.

But most people in the world are eager to learn our language, right? So, why do we need to learn theirs?

The problem is that when it comes to understanding other people, there is no substitute for speaking their language. When someone learns another language well (especially by studying in the country where the language is spoken), one absorbs all the nuances of meaning that are lost in translation. Language becomes a window into a nation's culture, society, economy, and political system. So, if someone thinks it's easier not to learn the language of the people s/he is communicating with, that person is naive. A person is at a disadvantage if s/he doesn't understand what the other party in a discussion--whether it's a person or a country--really means. And understanding what someone really means is best accomplished by speaking the other person or country's language.

So, if we really want to understand the huge, important and increasingly powerful country of China, we need to make the effort to understand Chinese.

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