"English being here to stay" isn't the issue, really

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2011/01/18 07:01 -05:00, original URI: http://blogs.msdn.com/b/michkap/archive/2011/01/18/10116992.aspx

Sites like Newsweek will post an article entitled Why learn Mandarin? China won’t make you speak it with a message about how much people in china who are going to own everything and do everything will be using English for so much of what they do so no one has to worry.

Just in case you were worried about this.

But were you?

I mean, people like what they like, right?

Looking at the less sensationalistic aspects of my recent blog PC LOAD LETTER? What the f**k does that mean [in Chinese]?, it is obvious that there are forces in government that look at what some consider to be the negative impact of  Anglicization of Chinese enough to want to forbid it. Clearly, they want to keep Chinese a being Chinese, in China.

All the article is saying is that the Chinese aren't stupid.

But I think we already knew that, didn't we?

I mean, I know I did. you probably did, too.

The article started with

The data would seem to be in: China is poised to become the world’s economic leader within the next few decades. But there are those under the impression that this will mean a sea change in the world’s linguistic terrain as well. Certainly, any human being who seeks education, influence, or power should be learning Mandarin, right?

Now let's think about this for a minute.

If you want to sell product in China, which is poised to become the world's economic leader and all that, do you think you will understand what they want and what they like if you give them your English products?

Remember the fact that the whole country doesn't speak English. How far will you get trying to convince people to buy your English product? Even ignoring the fact that the government will step in and make you translate it pretty quick anyway, and also fully support the Chinese language via GB18030 compliance and so on....

Some people will need to understand Chinese culture and language and concepts and attitudes in order to put the product or products in a place that makes them attractive and interesting for the market!

So having some smart people choose to not learn Mandarin is great if you want to have everyone grow up so that smarter people in China who learn English can sell products to you and your kids and their kids.

But if you and your children and your grandchildren want to sell products to Chinese people too, then perhaps you may want some of those English speaking kids to be as smart as those Chinese speaking kids that are learning English.

And perhaps they could read a little less Newsweek, if architected ignorance and catering to xenophobia is going to be their best contribution....

John Cowan on 18 Jan 2011 9:52 AM:

Traders do better if they speak the customer's language(s).  That's probably why the Dutch, whose empire was specifically about trade and not about settlement or la mission civilisatrice, didn't end up with any Dutch-speaking ex-colonies.

Raymond Chen - MSFT on 18 Jan 2011 12:44 PM:

That article is pretty funny. "Sure English has verb conjugation, but it's not that hard really", conveniently ignoring the twenty-five bajillion English verb tenses/moods/aspects.

Cheong on 18 Jan 2011 5:58 PM:

I think you'll learn it if you need it.

My father had lived in Korea for 5+ years to trade. And from what I learnt afterwards (I was about 6 years old so didn't bother to ask this kind of thing), when he go there, he can't even speak Korean. Yet 1 year later, he can manage to do the negotiation himself.

So although it's better to prepare earlier than regert later, I think if you really need to use it, you can learn it fast enough.

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