17 June 2011

Mandarin Chinese

Now that you are all convinced of the pleasurable necessity of learning a foreign language or two, I would like to suggest a particular language for you to begin with. If you already have made an emotional attachment to some other language, or are already multi-lingual, feel free to ignore my advice. But for those of you who are looking for a good language to study, here’s what I recommend: Mandarin Chinese.
Nope, not Spanish, French, Japanese, Swahili, or German. I recommend Mandarin Chinese. I have studied four different languages, besides English, in my life, and it is my educated opinion that Mandarin Chinese is the best foreign language to acquire. This valuation was determined through scientifically weighing the most important factors to consider when choosing a language to study: practicality, grammar, ease of learning, and coolness.
First, Mandarin Chinese is very practical. How large is the population of China? I rest my case. If you speak Mandarin, you can have conversations with far more people than you could speak with if you chose to learn, say, German.
To continue, Chinese grammar is very easy to get the hang of. For me, this has been what I loved most about learning this language. In Chinese, there is no need to memorize dozens of endings for verbs in all different tenses as well as the inevitable irregulars. After attending my Spanish class or my Japanese class, walking in the door of my Chinese classroom is a relief!
Many people are a bit terrified of Chinese because they have heard that it is a tonal language, and that you have to memorize thousands of unique characters in order to be literate. I must admit that Chinese is a tonal language and there are thousands of characters to be memorized. But it’s really not that scary. The tones and the characters take a little while to get used to, but  you’ll just have to trust me, after a while, the tones don’t all sound the same and the characters start to look like miniature pictures rather than “chicken scratches.”
My final argument as to why you should study Chinese is the coolness factor. In my carefully controlled experiments, people are much more impressed when they hear that you are studying Chinese than if you say that you are studying Spanish or another Latin-based language. This is totally unfair, because the undertaking of seeking fluency in a language other than your own should be respected no matter what language is chosen. However, such is life. Mandarin Chinese, as well as other tongues which do not use Arabic letters, are those languages which easily inspire awe and a little bit of fear on the part of us native English-speakers who are most comfortable with our 26-letter alphabet. Japanese, Korean, and Arabic are a couple other languages with a high coolness factor, due to how unusual they look to English-speakers when written. Any language with a pictoral script or an alphabet which looks nothing like the alphabet that I’m using right now will have a high coolness factor. However, out of all these impressive languages, I recommend Chinese, because of its easy grammar. Having studied both Japanese and Chinese, I can say from experience that Japanese grammar is much more difficult and less intuitive to a native English speaker than Chinese grammar is. I have never studied Arabic or Korean, though I have heard stories of the difficulty of learning Arabic.
                Now that you have been convinced that learning Mandarin Chinese is a brilliant idea, you are probably wondering how you ought to go about learning this magnificent language. Here, you have many options. Many colleges offer classes in Mandarin Chinese, and most large bookstores sell books from which you can learn rudimentary Chinese. I myself am in possession of the book Chinese for Dummies. There are also more amusing ways of studying Mandarin Chinese, including renting all available Chinese dramas from your local Blockbuster or getting lost in the streets of Beijing. Take your choice!
Anonymous said...

Speak italian to your politicians. Speak french to women. Pray in spanish. Speak german to your military. Speak dutch to your horse. Where does chinese fit?

No(dot dot)el said...

I love this Rachel. This made me giggle. You have some good points, like about how big China is vs. those other countires, and also the coolness factor. It would be cool to say "I'm studying Mandarin Chinese" , like what now? What's gonna top that?? I think it's fantastic that you have been able to study so many languages. What a gift. My Aunt who is from Germany know several languages, in fact that is what she does for a living. Translates for a huge mega-million dollar company based out of Beverly Hills. She's amazing. I think it's much easier to learn languages when you start off bi-lingual. I try to speak Italian with my children to keep my grandmothers memory alive. We've talked about this before, the love of words and languages. What a gift!

shontell said...

Love it. I taught English to a class full of Koreans last year. They taught me words in Japanese and Spanish. Language rules.