Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Mandarin Fever in Tanzania

Tanzania has suffered an outbreak of Mandarin Fever. A comment on “Learn Mandarin to Break Language Barrier for a Brighter Future, Students Told,”  in the Daily News (Tanzania).

The enthusiasm for Mandarin in many countries today is based on the false premise that Mandarin will become a very important international language. It is true that Mandarin is the most widely spoken first language in the world with 1.2 billion speakers but English is the most widely spoken language in general (native speakers and non-native speakers) with about 1.5 billion. And English far more useful world-wide. It is the international language of science, aviation, and business. 

A second  premise is that Mandarin is essential for doing business with China.  Over 300 million students are now studying English in China, which is about the same number of fluent English speakers in the United States – former Utah Governor Jon Huntsman observed that China may soon be the largest English-speaking country in the world.  It is challenging for any Mandarin student to achieve the level of competence in Mandarin necessary to do business, but there are many Chinese English speakers who are at that level now.

Nevertheless,  acquiring some Mandarin is a very good idea, as long as our expectations are reasonable and the method is correct.  It can lead to a better understanding and appreciation of the astonishingly rich Chinese culture.  For those interested in languages,  exposure to Mandarin, a language completely different from those we have studied before, is a profound experience. I am a beginning Mandarin student: Mandarin classes, using a very effective and pleasant method called TPRS, have taught me a tremendous amount about how language is acquired.

Stephen Krashen

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