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Don't learn Mandarin!

Chat in foreign languages or discuss language-learning.

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Mr S
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Don't learn Mandarin!

Post by Mr S » June 4th, 2013, 2:07 pm

Another perspective on language learning, with an emphasis on NE Asian languages. Something to consider before attempting to learn a language starting at a beginner level. If you get all butt-hurt reading it don't hate on me but email the original author through his website and have an educated discussion that way. The author is quite intelligent and rational so you better know what your talking about or he will tear you to shreds.

http://www.johntreed.com/Learning-Mandarin.html

Don’t learn Mandarin

Copyright 2012 by John T. Reed

It has become fashionable among some educated elites in the U.S. to get their kids to learn Mandarin.

That’s stupid.

Man does not live by growth alone
Apparently, this stems from China having an extraordinary growth rate since 1992—becoming one of the top three GDP countries in the world. If their recent rate of growth continues, which it seems not to be doing, they might even pass the U.S. and become number 1 in the future—in gross domestic product

This is less impressive when you look at their starting point—and their per capita GDP.

They were a disaster in the 1980s and before. They were able to quickly get high growth by simply lifting their boot off the neck of their people a little bit. Make me king of Cuba and I could do the same and more.

China’s GDP is relatively large, $5.93 trillion. Ours is $14.9 trillion. Japan’s is $5.46 trillion.

But China’s GDP per capita ranks only 92nd in the world. The U.S. is 6th.

‘Fluently’
The 6/27/12 Wall Street Journal said Americans are putting their kids in schools in China “to be able to communicate fluently with the country’s 1.3 billion people.â€￾

Hold on there. I was a top language student. I think I got A+ in every language I studied on school. And I studied Spanish, French, German, and Russian. I also studied Vietnamese in Vietnam, and a little Chinese and Japanese.

I could not speak any of those fluently. Maybe a working knowledge. I studied Spanish for 4.5 years, German for three years, and Russian for 3.5 years in college and about three years in high school (self-study there). I was the only student my high school ever let study two languages at once. I studied Spanish and German sophomore, junior, and senior year. I got all A+s and may have been the top student in each subject.

About the only Americans who speak a language fluently are those who grew up speaking another language at home—often in a country where everyone else spoke that language, or Americans who went overseas to study and lived among the natives for a year or more. The idea of American speaking a foreign language fluently because they studied it in a U.S. high school or college is absurd. It is also close to absurd to think American kids will learn Mandarin in a year in China living with their American parents while going to school during business hours.

They don’t all speak Mandarin
And what about the country’s 1.3 billion people 1.3 billion is, indeed, the entire population of China. But why doesn’t the Wall Street Journal know that not everyone in China speaks Mandarin?

Here is a linguistic map of China. Mandarin is spoken by 70% of the people. Others are probably forced to study it in school, but the language of Hong Kong, for example, is Cantonese. I have heard that dialect is the main one in U.S. Chinatowns.

So learning Mandarin is not going to let you communicate with all the people in China, only the ones who speak that dialect.

Xenophobia
Australia, America, New Zealand, and Canada are nations of immigrants. China and almost all the other old-world countries are not. In the 1970s when Japan was supposedly going to take over the world economically, tons of the elites started studying Japanese. I saw an article, I believe in the Wall Street Journal, that said something to the effect that even if you learned how to speak absolutely perfect Japanese so that a native Japanese could not tell you were non-Japanese on the phone, you would never be accepted. Japanese have a word “gaijinâ€￾ which means foreigner, but has nastier connotations than the word foreigner has in the nations of immigrants.

I am guessing that it was like the words GIs used to describe the enemy in our Pacific wars: Jap in WW II and gook in Vietnam. Those words reflected GI’s need to have a quick one-syllable word for the enemy that reflected both the fact that the bastards were trying to kill us and contempt for their screwed-up countries (by American standards). The politically correct will say there is much to respect in their cultures. Yeah, I agree, but bombing Pearl Harbor, shooting at us, and trying to turn South Vietnam communist etc. were not smart ways to make a good impression.

That Journal article told of an American family who lived in Japan for several years, then moved to Hawaii. Their kids had gone to school with the Japanese kids in Japan, learned Japanese, and all that. One day, in Hawaii, the American kids saw a Japanese kid whom they did not know on the beach. They ran over to him and taunted him in a mean, vicious way and called him “Gaijin! Gaijin!â€￾ The American parents made them stop and asked why they were behaving in such a way. They said when they were in Japan, that was the way the Japanese kids treated them there. They knew Japanese—both the language and the culture that went with it—enough to recognize that, in Hawaii, the tables were turned and the kid from Japan was now the gaijin.

In the 8/6/12 Forbes magazine, former Singapore Lee Kuan Yew says Japan has a suicidal fertility rate of 1.39. Anything less than 2.1 means your population is shrinking. The U.S. fertility rate is 2.1335. But unlike many other countries with sub-2.1 fertility rates, Japan prohibits immigrants. They really do not like gaijin—and gaijin who speak and write fluent, perfectly-accented Japanese are no exception. So don’t waste your time.

I am not saying that the Chinese are the same as the Japanese in that regard, but when I went to Hong Kong—back when it was a British colony in 1970 on leave from Vietnam—I read one of those irreverent guidebooks beforehand. It said that the Chinese in Hong Kong would be cordial, but that they regarded non-Chinese as a lower form of life. They would not want their daughter to marry one. And I felt that vibration when I was there. In general, I have felt welcome in British commonwealth countries populated by Anglo-Saxons and assimilated immigrants and their descendants. But also, I have felt like a somewhat disliked for my country of origin outsider in the other countries I have visited in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.

I understand that the best language teachers in Japanese and Chinese dialects also teach all sorts of cultural stuff because you really cannot speak those languages correctly without understanding the way native Asians think. Like American businessmen keep proposing a deal with Asians in Asia and think the Asians agreed, only to learn later that they did not because the language words alone are not sufficient. I heard there is no real equivalent of the word “noâ€￾ in Japanese because such a word would be too impolite. No one needs to learn much of that kind sort of thing to speak English or German or Hawaiian.

When I was a kid studying German on my own before I took it in school, my mom subscribed to Readers Digest and I subscribed to Das Beste, the German Readers Digest. As I recall, they generally had the same articles, only the German one was about two months behind. One German article was titled “In Japan, alles ist anders.â€￾ Anders means other or different. The U.S. article title was “In Japan, everything is backward.â€￾ It sure is, and in China as well. So you not only have to learn the language the way you would in, say, German, but you also have to learn all the “andersâ€￾ related to language like exotic manners, reading from right to left and back to front, addressing everyone by some word that expresses their marital status, age, relation to you, etc. (There is a little culture in learning less exotic languages like German, e.g., formal and informal words for you: sie and du.)

When you decide to speak Mandarin, you make a lot of trouble for yourself and I cannot imagine that the benefits are worth it.

So while speaking Mandarin may be useful for hearing what people around you are saying about you or reading things that Chinese would not say to you if they thought you understood them, I think your learning Mandarin will not benefit you the way their learning English will benefit them. Here, we are friendly to all and appreciate a foreigner who goes to the trouble to learn our language. In Asia, as the Wall Street Journal said, they regard a foreigner who speaks perfect Japanese or, I suspect Mandarin, the way we would regard a Chimpanzee who could play a song on the piano. Pretty good trick but I still wouldn’t want my daughter to marry him.

Better know something more than just the language
I once had a hostile encounter with an American college senior about studying an Asian language. I had just gotten my MBA at Harvard Business School and was working at Crocker National Bank’s main headquarters in San Francisco. The conversation went like this.

American majoring in Japanese: Who do I speak to about working for Crocker in Japan?

Me: Do you have an MBA?

him: No. A lot of people say I need one but my professor says I don’t.

Me: Your finance professor?

Him: No. I do not have a finance professor. He’s my Japanese professor. I am about to graduate from college here in San Francisco with a BA in Japanese.

Me: He’s wrong. You need an MBA.

Him: My professor says banks like this one need Japanese speakers so you can do business in Japan.

Me: He’s right about that. But we have them. They are called native Japanese citizens.

Him: But they would not have my knowledge of American English and culture.

Me, now exasperated and fed up with him: Come with me.

I then introduced him to one of my Harvard MBA classmates who was hired to Crocker at the same time as me the previous June.

Me: This is Yoshi. For the last two years, he and I were classmates at Harvard Business School. We both graduated with MBAs. He is a native Japanese and a Japanese citizen. He is married to a Japanese woman and has two Japanese kids. They all speak Japanese like the natives they are. If you want to get a job in international banking here or at any other large bank, you will have to prove that you speak Japanese as well as Yoshi and know Japanese culture as well as he does and that you have equal or better skills that relate to the banking business, like an MBA from a top business school. You cannot just be an American native Japanese-English translator.

I assume the kid went home and cried.

Welcome to the NFL, rookie. And sayonara.

They already speak English
Furthermore, how many people can you already communicate with in China? Xinhua Net (Chinaview) reported that there were almost 300 million people learning English in China in May, 2007. Over 100 million students in schools also learn English
Read more: http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_many_Chin ... z1z9YpgzSs

So learning Mandarin, if possible, would only let you communicate with the Mandarin speakers who are not already studying English. Who are they? The less educated, the uneducated. Manual laborers. Farmers. Maids and gardeners. People who are unlikely to travel or work in big cities or be involved in international trade or international relations. When, realistically, will you be in a position where you need to communicate with such people? Almost certainly never.

Many would say we should not rely on them to learn English because it’s selfish and it makes them look smarter than us because they can speak two languages and we can only speak one.

I shrug my shoulders. Perhaps the two countries should have flipped a coin to decide which country would learn the other’s language. But that was not done. Hundreds of millions of Chinese decided to study English. Whether it should have gone that way is now beside the point. It is dopey for us to duplicate their language study in the other direction. Only one side needs to learn both languages.

Although, you have to wonder about their English if you travel to China and see the signs that English-speaking tourists love to photograph. My wife snapped these photos in China in March 2012:

English sign in China What they are trying to say
Century Cruises hair dryer not free Don’t steal the hair dryer from your cabin
No naked flame No open flame
Unrecovery I don’t know what they meant. It was written on a trash can above the hole you put the trash in alongside a picture of a stick figure dropping trash in a waste can.
Visitors please go Special dassageway [with an arrow pointing right] Visitors [with the arrow]
No striding [on stone wall at edge of cliff] Keep off the wall
Free lighters I am not sure. The object it was on appears to be a public ash tray.

But I must add than when my youngest son and I were in Paris in 2008 I saw so many misspelled English sign and menus that I thought I might make a good living there charging 50 euros to correct all the mangled English writing at each restaurant or store. My local alterations lady here in California, from Cambodia, had a sign that said she altered “clothings.â€￾ I asked her who made the sign. Chinese sign guy. I told her she needed to remove the s.

There is no excuse for signs, menus, and so on with incorrect language directed at frequent foreign visitors. About 98% of the visitors would point out the errors for free if asked. They can’t be bothered to ask?

Stupid language
Mandarin is a stupid language. Some readers just recoiled fearing I am offending Chinese people.

Here, let me offend some English speakers. The English measuring methods—inches feet ounces miles—are stupid compared to the metric system. The English language is quite stupid in some ways, namely the wildly irregular spelling. We are the only language that has spelling bees. President Teddy Roosevelt tried to fix the irregular spelling. His idea was laffed out of Congress. Hitler’s deputy Martin Bormann ended a similar stupidity in German called fraktur. No one laughed when he did it.

And also the conjugation of verbs, use of multiple pronouns for the same person like “Iâ€￾ and “me,â€￾ and use of unnecessary words like “aâ€￾ and “theâ€￾ (Russian gets along just fine without them). I read an article that said the words eleven and twelve cause English and Western European speaking children to take longer to learn arithmetic than Asians where they use a more logical equivalent of oneteen and twoteen for those numbers. Makes sense. At least we don’t assign genders to tables and pencils like the European languages. What the hell was that about?

The Chinese have no monopoly on stupid. But their written and spoken languages are orders of magnitude more stupid than English and almost all other languages in the world. I am speaking of their written language, obsessive detailed identification of everyone’s relation to everyone else instead of using a simple “you,â€￾ and their tones, not grammar and such.

Only the Chinese who can speak English could be offended by what I just said, which begs the question of why they felt the need to learn English.

I studied seven languages to one degree or another. Spanish is relatively easy. So is English other than the spelling. French and German are harder. Russian is still harder. Vietnamese is a real bitch because of the tones and a zillion ways to say you or I and other insanity. But at least they have an alphabet.

Then there is Manadarin, which I studied a bit. What a freaking disaster!

They don’t have an alphabet. Their written language is pictures. The written word for man is an upside down V, apparently the legs of a stick figure. Their word for middle—which is the first of the two words that are the name of the country—Middle Kingdom— is a vertical line going through the middle of a square. By the way, apropos of the gaijin mentality discussion, the name for China—Middle Kingdom—is more accurately translated as “center of the universe.â€￾ That means a foreigner, even one who speaks Mandarin, is from some peripheral, far less important part of the universe.

I have heard Chinese brag that they are superior to us Westerners because they have a 3,000-year-old culture. Everyone has a 3,000-year-old culture, unless you arrived from another planet recently. Oh, wait. People from the “center of the universeâ€￾ sort of would think that’s exactly what we did, wouldn’t they?

What China has is not changing some things over 3,000 years, like their picture writing.

My ancestors in Europe had picture writing, too. Hieroglyphics. Cave paintings. But my ancestors figured out that an alphabet made a lot more sense—in 730 BC. So we switched. The Chinese did not.

Slow learners? No. Apparently just 2,300 years of mindless, not-invented-here stubbornness. Which is nothing to brag about.

Like I said, it’s a stupid language. To graduate from high school, you have to memorize 15,000 characters! We only need 26 letters and we learn them from Sesame Street by around age 5.

A reader writes:

First. YOU DO NOT NEED 15,000 characters to read/write Mandarin! 3000 characters is all that is required for daily living (2718 I read at last count). If you are a scientist you may need to *recognize* 6000 AT MOST. Where did you get 15000 from? Most of the more obscure characters are used once in a blue moon in place names, personal names etc. Also, there are about 1000 characters that you will see 70% of the time. So your 15000 number smacks of gross exaggeration. [I have seen that figure a number of times in articles in various places and had it confirmed by a Chinese person once in conversation. I have written in my How to Write, Publish, and Sell Your Own How-To Book that you should refrain from going much beyond the 1,000 to 2,000 most often used words as a writer, that one can accomplish a ton by just learning the most-often-used 1,000 or 2,000 words in a language. There is some research and web info on that. In English, it is called Basic English. But note that this writer has changed the subject. I did not say you needed to learn 15,000 to get by; only that I heard you needed that many to graduate from high school in China. If you do not plan to graduate from high school in Mandarin, don’t worry about it. Learn as many as you want. Leaning enough still takes 2,200 hours—three times as much as better designed languages like Spanish—according to the State Department. The point is that in English you only have to learn 26 letters. In Mandarin, roughly speaking, every word is its own “letterâ€￾ that you have to memorize.]

Then there are the tones. We have tones in English. They are used to convey emotion (“Don’t speak to me in that tone of voice, young man!â€￾) or to indicate that the word is a command or a question. In Mandarin, such subtle tones change the meaning of the word entirely! Which suggests to me that it is harder to convey emotion or imperative or inquiring words by tone of voice in Mandarin. That would be undesirable.

I remember a couple examples in Vietnamese. I was kidding with a Vietnamese waitress in an officers club in Vietnam once. And she was kidding back—all in Vietnamese. I wrapped it up by telling her, “Get back to work,â€￾ or so I thought. She exploded with laughter. I asked why. “You just told me to get pregnant,â€￾ she said in English.

Di bo means go to work, or get pregnant, depending on how you pronounce the word “bo.â€￾ If a Vietnamese said the two versions, an American would say there is no difference. If they say it again a couple of times for you, eventually you will hear the ever-so-slight difference. For example, one O tone is what we English speakers would call the questioning tone. Bo? meaning your tone would rise toward the end of the syllable. Another O tone in Vietnamese sounds like you are theatrically enunciating in an exaggerated way to make sure the back row of the audience can hear it correctly. And those two tones completely change the meaning of the words—for example from work to pregnant. Absurd by English standards. Now you know why tonal languages sound so sing-song. If you don’t hit the note just right, you said a totally different word than you intended.

Here’s another combination from Vietnamese. Nha tho means church (house of god) or whore house (house of prostitute) depending upon how you pronounce the o in tho. I’m guessing there are similar issues in Mandarin.

Tones may not be hard to pick up for a Chinese toddler, but for an older English speaker, forget about it. My American-soldiers-learning-Vietnamese class took about three nights to figure out the tones even existed. The instructor would write the word on the blackboard and ask us to say it. We would read the letters and pronounce it as if it were Spanish or Italian or some such. “No, No, No,â€￾ the teacher would say then he would say it correctly. “What’s the difference?â€￾ we would ask. Finally we could hear the super subtle difference and we all shook our heads in disbelief.

I have read a number of things that say you learn to speak with a native accent if you learn as a toddler or elementary school age person. At older ages, you can learn the words and grammar, but rare is the adult who can learn the accent right. Because of the tones in languages like Vietnamese and Chinese dialects, I wonder if they are like the native accent meaning if you want to learn a tonal language you’d better do it as a very young child. Jon Huntsman and others have apparently done it as adults, but it is a daunting task and maybe impossible for many. In other words, one can speak German with an American accent or American with a German accents and the natives are amused but can tell what you are saying. I wonder if speaking Mandarin with an American accent means you are not speaking Mandarin at all, but rather saying work when you mean pregnant and all sorts of other things that are listener-comprehension-wise problems beyond a mere foreign accent.

If a German says, “Ve haf vays to make you kooperrate,â€￾ we smile at his or her inability to pronounce Ws and Vs and at his rolling the R. But we understood what he said. If you make the equivalent pronunciation mistakes when speaking Mandarin, your “We have ways to make you cooperateâ€￾ may come out as “Is swallow metaphor transistor kick.â€￾ In other words, Mandarin may be a language that you may not speak with an accent, one of very few such in the world. Say it exactly right or don’t bother to say it at all.

Who thought up this idiocy?

When they converted Vietnamese, which used to use Chinese style pictograms for writing, to an alphabet, they did not need the whole English alphabet, but they did have to have nine little diacrit symbols to put over the vowels. They only use 22 letters from our alphabet. I guess they could not change the language to use more consonants and fewer tones once the language was established. Too bad the first inventors of the language did the tones instead of the consonants. The fact that almost no other languages but a couple of Asian ones use tones indicates figuring out to use more letters and consonants was a better idea that was not so hard to come up with.

2,200 hours vs. 750
The Journal had a startling fact that did not surprise me in the least having fiddled around with Mandarin at one time—and studied other languages. The U.S. State Department Foreign Service Institute says it takes 2,200 class hours, with half of them in the country in question, to become competent in Mandarin. Spanish, they say, only requires only 600 to 750 class hours to learn.

Stupid.

Think about how much 2,200 hours is. If you get Rossetta Stone course and schedule a half hour per night of study from Monday through Thursday each week, you are logging two hours a week. 2,200 ÷ 2 = 1,100 week, a.k.a. 21.15 years—half of them in the country in question. If you take your child to China to learn Mandarin, and put them in school for that, and the school day lasts six hours, it will take 2,200 ÷ 6 = 367 days, a.k.a. two full school years.

If your time is worth $25 a hour, 2,200 hours will cost you $55,000. Since 1,100 of them must be in China, add airfare, lodging, etc.

Here is another contribution from a reader:

You wrote:

Think about how much 2,200 hours is. If you get Rossetta Stone course and schedule a half hour per night of study from Monday through Thursday each week, you are logging two hours a week. 2,200 ÷ 2 = 1,100 week, a.k.a. 21.15 years—half of them in the country in question. If you take your child to China to learn Mandarin, and put them in school for that, and the school day lasts six hours, it will take 2,200 ÷ 6 = 367 days, a.k.a. two full school years.

If your time is worth $25 a hour, 2,200 hours will cost you $55,000. Since 1,100 of them must be in China, add airfare, lodging, etc.

The truth is worse than that. Much, much worse. In fact, with conventional methods, success may well be IMPOSSIBLE. Literally. Why? Because you forgot about forgetting. And the longer you take to learn a language, the more you forget. Here's from an article I read some years ago. http://www.wired.com/medtech/health/mag ... ff_wozniak It's about a brilliant polish man determined to learn English. He now speaks fluent English (I've heard recordings of him speak and read his writings). He's never set foot in an English speaking country.

The most important challenge was English. Wozniak refused to be satisfied with the broken, half-learned English that so many otherwise smart students were stuck with. So he created an analog database, with each entry consisting of a question and answer on a piece of paper. Every time he reviewed a word, phrase, or fact, he meticulously noted the date and marked whether he had forgotten it. At the end of the session, he tallied the number of remembered and forgotten items. By 1984, a century after Ebbinghaus finished his second series of experiments on nonsense syllables, Wozniak's database contained 3,000 English words and phrases and 1,400 facts culled from biology, each with a complete repetition history. He was now prepared to ask himself an important question: How long would it take him to master the things he wanted to know?

The answer: too long. In fact, the answer was worse than too long. According to Wozniak's first calculations, success was impossible. The problem wasn't learning the material; it was retaining it. He found that 40 percent of his English vocabulary vanished over time. Sixty percent of his biology answers evaporated. Using some simple calculations, he figured out that with his normal method of study, it would require two hours of practice every day to learn and retain a modest English vocabulary of 15,000 words. For 30,000 words, Wozniak would need twice that time. This was impractical.

I personally use Wozniak's Super Memo program. My wife used it to ace her medical boards (she's a doctor) and to keep her medical knowledge fresh. It works wonderfully. I'm using it to teach my seven year old daughter Hebrew (which I don't speak). She now has a thousand-word vocabulary, which we review for about ten minutes a day. Her recall is excellent. (P.S. I'm not teaching her the Hebrew for her to make money or anything, but to teach her persistence, sustained effort and for whatever other benefits a foreign language will offer. And hell, if she ever wants to live in Israel...).

[Note from John T. Reed: Good point. I remember a great deal of all the languages I studied except for Vietnamese and Mandarin. And Vietnam was the only country I lived in where I could daily speak to natives a language that I had studied, the only country where I studied the language while in the country in question. I can barely remember any of it, apparently because it was so foreign and different from English. I have become expert not only in languages but in six genres of book subjects that I write about. As a result, I am an expert on expertise. One the main things you need to know about becoming an expert is that initially it all seems like a million things to memorize, but there comes a point where the light bulb goes on and you see the handful of central principles of the subject in question. I felt like the light bulb went on in the languages other than Vietnamese and Mandarin, but never in those two. It would not surprise me to learn that native speakers of Mandarin do not have as big of a writing and reading vocabulary as native speakers of English of the same age and education level. Just as people who only knew Roman Numerals would not be as good at math as people who use Arabic number (the regular numbers used by Americans and others) We English speakers got our alphabet, or the basic idea of it, from the Greeks and our numbers from the Arabs. Whatever works. In its written language, China operates on some other agenda than whatever works.]

The parents who took their small kids to China to learn Mandarin seemed unhappy with the results in the article. No kidding. I think you would have to be a missionary family there for several years—with no other English speakers in the village—to really understand, read, write, and speak Mandarin well.

The same reader writes:

Furthermore did you read a breakdown of the reason why Mandarin requires so many more hours? It is probably because you're spending time learning the writing system. NOT DUE to the inherent difficulty of the spoken language. How can I say this? Because with a few exceptions, Mandarin's grammar is simpler/more logical than English's! [It doesn’t matter what the reason is. The State Department has spoken. When people learn a language, they learn to speak, understand the spoken word, read and write it. This guy seems to claim he is disproving my article. He is just pointing that some parts of Mandarin are dumber than others. No doubt about that.]

Here is another reader’s comment:

On Jun 29, 2012, at 10:26 AM, Robert Torres wrote:

Great article on Mandarin!! I recently bought the Rosetta Stone Mandarin course, did the first lessons and came to the same conclusions. My daughter married the son of Laotian immigrants, so I thought it would be nice to communicate with them in their language. Boy was I wrong! My son-in-law pointed out to me that Mandarin is extremely difficult to learn. He isn't fluent either and he grew up around them speaking the language. But I thought I was up for the challenge, being a stubborn guy! Nope. What a waste of money,....lol

Yours,

Rob Torres

I got two more emails from two other readers that said about the same thing as this one.

Compare to the gold standard
Esperanto is probably the gold standard for language design. That is an artificial language invented by Doctor Ludwig Zamenhof. I studied that one a bit, too. It resembles Spanish only it eliminates conjugations and needing multiple pronouns like I and me for the same person. It is the easiest language to learn, but totally gets done the job that a language needs to get done.

If you want to know how dumb a particular language is, compare it to Esperanto. Chinese is the language that is farthest from Esperanto in my limited study.

It has been said that English is the Microsoft Widows of languages. Maybe not the best, but it won the battle. Like VHS defeating Betamax.

It’s not your fault that English won. No need to apologize for it. There was competition, like French (diplomacy) and Spanish (spoken over the widest geographic area) and Latin (academia and Catholic church). They lost, apparently because of less skill at colonization, trade, finance, and innovation. China, being the center of the universe, and Japan, disliking those gaijin, hid from the rest of the world for centuries, thereby violating Woody Allen’s “80% of success is showing upâ€￾ rule for winning competitions like the one to be the world’s universal language.

Another reader quotes a linguist named McWhorter who seems to support what I just said:

McWhorter discusses how languages develop all those bells and whistles like tones, complex grammars, difficult sounds, etc. It's all a function of how isolated the language was when it developed. The longer it was isolated, the harder it's going to be to learn. Languages that encounter other language groups (and therefore acquire a large number of non-native speakers) will be easier because many of the bells and whistles associated with the language will disappear as people don't want to bother learning them. That's how come English now has one word for "you" and we lost words like "ye" and "thee" and "thou", which all had grammatical significance way back when.

And here are another reader’s comments:

Hello Mr. Reed,

I've just finished you article on mandarin, and I wanted to say there were a few good bits that bear repeating.

i) Only the Chinese who can speak English could be offended by what I just said, which begs the question of why they felt the need to learn English.

ii) It appears, as I expected, that the Chinese had to concoct a third written language—pinyin—to enable Mandarin speakers to put things in alphabetical order...

I am a foreign student in the US (college senior in Iowa), and have spent over 9 years in primary & secondary school (grades 1-9) learning Mandarin. I can honestly say that it was a waste of time. The only time I ever use my Mandarin (or Cantonese, which is what my father is fluent in) is when I order food from a Chinese restaurant back in Malaysia. We speak English at home, and have done very well with it.

I would like to offer my perspective on the languages:
Consider how many tens (hundreds?) of thousands of students travel to English-speaking countries to complete their college & graduate education. All of the middle-class and higher income families in Asian societies send their children to universities in the US, UK, and Australia to get degrees ranging from engineering to psychology. All of these "foreign" students have to be proficient in English in order to pass language exams to be admitted. How many American/British/Australian students travel to China or Singapore to do the same?

I would also consider Mark Steyn's book After America on what he says about China's weakness. Much of the progress that we see in China is catching up to Western technology - hence the copyright infringements on an industrial scale. I can't offer any advice about where to put your money, but I can say this: Don't bother learning another language other than English. I am proficient in 3 languages: Malay/Indonesian, Mandarin/Cantonese, and English, because those were the languages I had to learn in school, but I have never used anything other than English to communicate.

You will never be fully accepted anyway: Either as an Asian with perfect English (personal experience), or as a Caucasian with perfect Mandarin (cultural experience). And everyone who can overlook that difference probably speaks English anyway.

Regards,
Justin Chow

Here is another similar email:

Hi John,

Your piece advising against Americans learning Mandarin is indispensable reading for any American seeking opportunities abroad. As an Asian American working in China, learning Mandarin will NOT help you to interact with Chinese in any meaningful way.

Since I appear Chinese, but grew up in a western environment, the locals are utterly offended at how un-Chinese I behave (they have long given up criticizing how Caucasians behave). I have near perfect Mandarin. But i realised it's not because of language that I'm not accepted. They find my talking about how i actually feel, eating (they consider eating to be an elaborate dance where you might put something in your mouth), my choice of conversation topics, etc. to be UTTERLY REPUGNANT.

I actually interact with the locals (my gf is Chinese and has been there all her life), so don't get me started on other Asian Americans or Caucasians here, most of whom DON'T have any meaningful relationships with Chinese (they stay in their Shangri Las and country clubs where they only encounter their own). Which might be a good thing because the locals think they are little better than animals.

To thrive you just have to be yourself( especially if you are a foreigner) and be proud of where you are from. Hopefully this fad to learn Chinese will fade.

And here is another email emphasizing the “East is East and West is West,â€￾ racial, cultural barriers that no amount of language proficiency will overcome:

Dear Jack,

I've read your article on not learning Mandarin. Another really good one, enjoyed the read.

I'm an engineer in the oil & gas industry and have worked for both Chinese and Korean companies, meaning I actually worked directly with and for the locals. I have also been on the other side - the client side (working for a western company doing business in Asia), which I can tell you is quite a different than working directly for an Asian contractor.

China and Korea are quite different countries so I will discuss them separately.

Of the two countries, China was definitely the stranger one to work in. My Chinese superiors (and I use the term loosely) were generally inept. My direct boss, who was responsible for about $500M project was about 35 or so years old, and did not have a clue what he was doing. Cronyism is quite rampant in China, which is why he was given this posting. He obviously didn't earn it because he wasn't good at his job. Also, he was terrified of his boss, whom he referred to as his 'leader', not his boss. He would actually shake a bit when he was talking about him. Never seen anything like it.

My boss didn't actually trust any of the Westerners who worked for him! We would make prudent suggestions on this or that which may have cost some money upfront, but he would argue ignorantly that we didn't need it or would suggest some ridiculous other way that didn't cost anything so he didn't have to lose face. He would lose face with his superiors if he needed more money for a project, even a small amount, so he was constantly arguing with us. I've never worked in a place like that before, because of course westerns don't have this nonsense 'losing face' culture the Asians have.

The Chinese did not want me or the other foreign experts there. We were considered a necessary evil. They could not accomplish the offshore projects without foreign experts so they brought many of us in. One of the foreigners working with us was an Chinese-Australian, who was more Auzzie than Chinese but spoke their language pretty well. He wasn't accepted either, but they did prefer to communicate with him only because their English wasn't so great. Otherwise he was just another over-paid unwelcome foreigner in their land.

Their goal was to learn as much as possible from us so that in say 5-10 years (more likely 50+) they wouldn't need foreign experts and could the all of the work themselves. The problem is, the engineers I personally worked with had no interest in the work - the were more interested in playing with their new smart phone than the work. Strange place: too much cronyism, xenophobia, arrogance / Chinese pride and love of money for me.

As for Korea... its quite different than China. It's a democracy for one, but not an old one. Korea was one of the poorest countries in the world only about 50 years ago. Think about that! Think of Zimbabwe turning into a top 10 world economy in about 50 years, or roughly 2 generations of people. That creates a lot of pride. Also, Korea is a very old country. During my cultural training I was told Korea is about 5000 years old, but has been invaded roughly 1000 times!! But their country has remained in tact amazingly. That also creates a lot of pride.

I was offered a job by a large Korean shipyard near my home (I'm based in Korea). Since my wife is Korea, I thought why not spend a few years in Korea and start our family here. So I accepted the offer. It was one of the worst career moves I've ever made. I highly regret it.

When I was hired, I was told I would be the lead engineer for several projects, which is what I was doing when I worked for western companies. However, this was a lie. Those positions were given to Koreans, and more importantly - to Koreans who did not know what they were doing. My area of expertise is one this Korean shipyard was trying to break into, so they hired me seemingly to expand their capabilities, right?

Wrong! I eventually figured out that they hired me for two reasons. The first and most important was as window dressing. I was paraded in front of the clients (ie: western oil companies, some of which I had worked for) to shake hands, appear on org charts, and generally make the client feel warm and fuzzy so they wouldn't worry about that part of the project. The second reason was actually for my expertise. However, they didn't give me any sort of real position on these projects (ie: lead engineer, assistant to lead etc), those positions were all given to Koreans remember. My job was to answer their questions when they had any, but not to try to insert myself into these projects. Koreans, being the prideful number one race that they are (according to their thinking) basically didn't involve me in the projects even though they didn't know what they were doing. Hence, I spent about 2 months surfing the internet before I quit.

When I was hired I was gung ho to learn Korean, but I learned that it's pretty useless to become fluent, at least for the purpose of advancing in a Korean company. You can't just learn the language, you must learn the culture - and practice it. There are so many little things in Korean culture which we westerns don't have, or probably think is stupid, but they exist in these Asian cultures - and are essential. Korean culture also has a very strong hierarchy based on age which we don't have. Age is so important that in fact it's the first question one Korean will ask another so they know how to address the other one forever after. [Reed note: This cultural/language habit was manifest in the old Charlie Chan stories by Charlie’s referring to Lee Chan as “number one son.â€￾ They more or less do that same thing with every relative and acquaintance like military rank; only military rank gone wild with dozens of permutations.] As you can imagine, all of this is important to know to be able to speak the language correctly, and this is vital in a business environment. Pidgin street Korean can not be practiced in a company, you must speak it correctly or you will offend someone and that will have a negative effect on your career.

In summary, I have found learning a basic amount of Korean or Chinese is a good idea - like how to give a taxi driver directions, or to know the numbers and how to ask how much something is. Going further than that is a waste of time in my opinion.

Apologies for turning this into a dead sea scroll type email... but I could have gone on much longer actually. Anyhow, thanks again for the great articles.

regards
Rod Burley

And here is another on the technical aspects of the various languages:

From: Joseph O'Connor <tiluser>
Subject: Re: Article on Mandarin
Date: July 4, 2012 8:00:59 AM PDT
To: John Reed <johnreed>

Hi John,

Just read your article on (not) learning Mandarin - I appreciate your perspective. Just a few comments.

Vietnamese examples:
nhà thổ - whorehouse.
nhà thơ - church

The words differ by more than their tone. Besides the low-rising tone, whorehouse is pronounced more like the o in "hoe", while the ơ in church is pronounced more like "uh". Still, you're correct in that they sound very similar.

đi bộ - to go on foot (walk) (has a low broken tone, exactly as you described it)
có bầu - get pregnant. bầu has a low falling tone, not a low rising one (as in asking a question).

These should be readily distinguishable, even to a native English speaker with little or no exposure to Vietnamese.

Relative language difficulty:
The Foreign Service Institute has posted an average learning time of 500-600 hours of Spanish and French for English speakers for a conversational level of fluency, 1100 hours for Vietnamese, and 2200 for Mandarin. So Vietnamese, despite its status as a tonal language, is at an intermediate level of difficulty overall - considerably more difficult than Spanish or French, but nowhere near as difficult as Mandarin.

Mark Rosenfelder has an article at http://zompist.com/yingzi/yingzi.htm on the relative inefficiency of the Chinese writing system. But very few characters are actual pictograms. [God! That makes it even worse! I already knew that the character for kingdom in Middle Kingdom was not much of a picture of a country: 中国]

Spaced repetition:
Supermemo is a good tool for learning vocabulary via spaced repetition (I use it), but unless you're only interested in reading/writing, not sufficient. One of the biggest challenges of using it is avoiding being overwhelmed by the number of flashcard repetitions, which can easily become several hundred daily. There's also a fairly steep learning curve due to the complexity of the application interface.

Hope this helps.

Joe

A college classmate of mine was stationed in Japan in the Army. He passed a Japanese man while they were both driving cars on the highway once. The Japanese man, seeing he had been passed by a Caucasian, went nuts and instantly zoomed past my friend to retake the lead position. My friend just laughed and remained in his “subordinateâ€￾ position.

Another exposition of the uncrossable divide between Asians and Caucasians at least when we are over there is in the book You Gotta Have Wa, written by an American who married a Japanese woman and who lived in Japan for a time. I read there or somewhere else that although a few Americans are allowed to play baseball in Japan’s major leagues, there is sort of an unwritten rule that they are not allowed to break records set by Japanese players. If they approach the record, they get walked, hit by the pitch, called out on balls, etc. even when such behavior is likely to cause the team doing it to lose the game.

Here is another email from a Mandarin insider:

Hello John,

I read the "Learning Mandarin" article and have a few points to share with you. For background purposes - I was born in China and came to the US when I was 6, but due to upbringing manage to maintain fluency in the language, with the exception of technical terms that I have only learned in English like "social contract" "double entry accounting" "data manipulation language" or "weed whacker."

The most major point is that there is a place for foreigners (who do have their own word - laowai, which generally is a friendlier version of gaijin in that instead of connotations of xenophobia it's more curiosity) who want to speak mandarin, but they do not have to speak it fluently. All they really need at this point is how to say everyday things like "hello" "thank you" "how are
you" "the weather is good" along with some idioms. White guy can do that, Chinese will eat them up like steamed buns. I think you had a sentence about how it's nice to speak the language of the locals and they might appreciate you, but I think that point deserved to be expanded upon further. Unfortunately, being of Chinese descent myself, this does not work for me, as it is expected that I not lose any of my culture despite being abroad, while a foreigner obtaining any Chinese culture is an achievement unlocked. A more comedic take on this can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vC_ycDO6 ... age#t=459s

Regarding the difficulty and the aspects of the language itself - a large part of that is because the written/read and spoken components don't complement each other at all. With western languages you have an alphabet, so as long as you know how each letter is pronounced. With Chinese you can sometimes kind of do that with more complex characters, since usually a character will take on the sound of a component character. 仗 makes a zhang4 (falling tone) sound, as does its right side 丈, however it's not true all the time, and it doesn't help you if you don't know the right side in the first place. There was an attempt to replace characters with an alphabetical language once, but it was determined that Chinese just has too many homophones to make that feasible. As for duplication of language study efforts, a lot of people do study English, but how good they are at it will vary greatly. You must realize, Chinese education is based heavily on rote-memorization with one single big exam at the end of the semester, and sometimes one single midterm in addition. It's not like here where we have projects all the time to constantly reinforce learning. So maybe you'd run into someone with a level 4 national qualification in English, and you still wouldn't be able to converse in them in English because they crammed for the test and never use it elsewhere. But again, fluency isn't always important if all you need is directions to the subway station.

Also, the linguistic map you have linked is somewhat misleading. That green section that's listed as "Southern" all speaks mandarin too. It's supposed to be the language used across the board in all of China, it's just that the "southern" part speaks their own dialects in addition to mandarin. It's only in areas that are heavily populated by ethnic minorities as well as being remote that you can't rely on everyone knowing mandarin (basically, Inner Mongolia, outer reaches of Xinjiang, non-urban areas of Tibet, and the Zhuang Autonomous Region of Guangxi based on that map, though I hear quite a few Tibetans, especially the monks, will also know English). Hong Kong also speaks mandarin in addition to Cantonese, although from what I understand there's some prejudice against mandarin speakers due to the perception that they're country bumpkins from the mainland. Of course, if you're white, that prejudice doesn't apply.

And to answer your question about how Chinese dictionaries are organized, there's two indices in the beginning, one that lists sounds in alphabetical order based on pinyin. So to look up my first name, you'd navigate to "Q", find where the "quan" sound is, flip to that page, then look through the list of characters until you get to 全. The other way is by brush stroke (which even I find nonsensical) - there's supposed to be a general order for brush strokes to go when you're writing a character, so you'd start with a component, and then you'd flip to a page which lists all characters with that component ordered by how many brush strokes they take to write, and then you'd flip to the page with the actual character you want along with the definition. Thing is sometimes it's hard to figure out which component category you'd find a word under. My first name starts with a left-down-diagonal stroke. It's also comprised of the characters for "Man" and "King" (I guess my parents had lofty ambitions for me when they named me?). So there's a question as to which component list I would actually find my first name under, the left diagonal or the "man" top.

On the whole, though, it is possible for foreigners to learn Chinese and speak it fluently. One of my closest friends I would consider fluent, although he has spent over 4 years studying it, as well as a semester and a summer internship abroad, in addition to having a local girlfriend and being heavily involved in a campus Chinese student organization, so that's a lot of impetus to learn. On the other hand, another of my closest friends is from Taiwan and went to international school in Beijing up to middle school before coming over here, and he can understand it well enough but can't really speak or read. It does take a lot of effort for fluency in mandarin that may be better spent elsewhere, but since fluency isn't really required anyway, I'd still say a year of it will be of use for rapport-building purposes.

I responded as follows:

Looking up written characters by stroke sounds like looking for a photo in a police mug book organized by race.
I agree with the traveler polite stuff like nice to meet you. I never used a year's worth of any of the languages I spoke. Basically, the natives of the language in question—other than maids and gardeners—could all speak English far better than I could speak their language. I suspect if I had some occasion to spend time in China I would learn mandarin—like a several-week immersion course. Then, after I got there, I would decide based on day-to-day observations whether to study more. Probably varies according to your job.
May I quote you?
Jack Reed

And he said:

That is an apt analogy. Like hair color, presence of facial hair, etc. Except a redhead with facial hair wouldn't be listed in both "red hair" and "facial hair" sections. Dictionaries have both indices. Also, typing works on pinyin, although touchphones also allow you to write, and some typing systems can piece together brush strokes too. Taiwan has its own system that's kind of like pinyin that I think works a bit like Japan's sound-based alphabet.

On the whole, if I was to try to make a broad sweeping generalization, I think the ability to speak Chinese to Chinese people carries you a bit farther than the ability to speak Spanish to Mexicans for reasons tied to the "China is the Middle Kingdom" mentality. For a long time China was the center of culture. Then, from 1840-1949, China got kicked around by all the European countries. But now, China is rising again, and to see a foreigner make the attempt to learn Chinese is kind of an affirmation that China is regaining its rightful place in the world. Which carries you quite far when you're working any job that requires you to build rapport. But again, this works mainly if you're a foreigner or make it very clear that you are one.

You may quote me along with my name. From the looks of it you remove the contact details of people who comment, which will do. [I generally require permission to publish an email address on testimonials about my books or newsletter or on hostile emails.]

Quan Zhang

And here is another

Jack -

That was one of your best articles yet - I agree totally.

My wife is native Singaporean and grew up speaking Mandarin and Cantonese, but her first language is English, as is the case for nearly all Singaporeans. Even she does not consider herself a native Chinese speaker and would be very wary of doing business on the mainland for fear of being taken advantage of because she is not a Chinese national - even though she's 100% ethnically Chinese.

When I was in the military, I lived in Korea for over nearly two years, self-studying basic Korean and later attending an Army language school for six months. I got okay at it but of course never became fluent and did not pursue it further as I had no plans to return to Korea. Moreover, after experiencing the same kind of reactions you described (a chimp playing the piano - priceless and accurate!), it was obvious that speaking just a bit here and there to build rapport was the most I'd ever need or be expected to have, and no matter how much better I became I'd still be the monkey that speaks Korean. So as you correctly pointed out, the time spent playing catch-up on such a difficult language spoken by comparatively few people who were simultaneously learning MY language made no sense to me.

That said, I've spoken French since about high school - combined with self study and another military language course I've reached what I'd say is professional working proficiency, but not yet fluency. One big step that helped here was studying Latin in middle school - something so few schools teach nowadays. If one is going to study any language at all in school, Latin by far makes the most sense as it effectively teaches about five languages at once (Spanish, Portuguese, Italian, French, Romanian, root words for English, etc.). While studying French, knowing the Latin roots was and is a tremendous help in understanding the vocabulary - it's a pity so few English speakers ignore this once widely prescribed component of a complete education, opting instead to pathetically ape Asian cultures into which they never have been nor ever will be fully included. [My oldest son Dan studied Latin for four years in high school and again in Columbia University. He said it helped with the verbal SAT. I pointed out it was one of very few languages where you do not get graded on pronunciation or ability to understand native speakers—because it is a dead language that no one knows how to pronounce for sure. I recommend that Americans study no language at all except English for the simple reason that it is a waste of time as a practical matter. Somewhere along the line someone got it in their head that educated, literate people could speak at least one foreign language. Maybe in the Middle Ages. Maybe in Europe where they speak a different language every couple of hundred miles. But not us, not here, not now. I saw an article recently that said even Arabs do not speak Arabic. The educated ones speak English at home, because they went to school in England or the U.S. Arabic is the language of the menial workers and the uneducated in Arab countries. The foreign language competence of Americans who studied a foreign language in high school and college, including me, an A+ language student in four different languages, is a joke. Better we spend the time, effort, and money to get our math scores up.]

Whether it's guilt, political correctness or silly affectations of aspiring to all things eastern, time spent by American youths learning Mandarin while neglecting their own language takes away from more efficient uses of their peak learning years. For example, I don't think I know too many non-native Mandarin speakers who are also board certified plastic surgeons - there's just not enough time in life to master both disciplines. Besides, if one has skills that valuable and needs a translator, one will be provided - often for cheap (and who knows what the next iPhone may be capable of?) Culturally, it's also confusing - my wife and I have American friends who sent their child to a Chinese and English language kindergarten where he ostensibly will learn both languages. He can impressively sing a few Chinese nursery rhymes, but I'm pretty sure he hasn't learned the Pledge of Allegiance yet.

While debating which language to study, everyday usage, grammar and spelling of English even among well educated American youths is suffering. Witness the 'text message' writing habits of most emails and sometimes more formal correspondence by anyone under thirty these days. And don't get me started on what passes for an English teacher nowadays anyway - with instruction coming from people who can't speak the language properly in the first place, there's no blaming the students if they pick up sloppy habits.

Great work.

- Mark

P.S.: Don't get me started on what the government must be wasting per year, per student on military language courses which crank out an appallingly low number of proficient speakers of any language. They finally started using Rosetta Stone as part of their program in the Army, but even then I'm sure they're spending too much time and money on inefficient and pointless foreign language instruction on too many people who either don't need it or won't learn it.

Americans beat themselves up for being racist. If you want to see and experience real racism, go to East Asia as a Caucasian. Decide whether you want to learn Mandarin after you do that, not before.

Network effect
Chinese have been studying English in great numbers because of what is called network effect. Network effect means that the more people who use a product, the more valuable that product is. Speaking English has been the way to communicate with the highest percentage of the people who matter in the world. Not my fault. Just saying.

Maybe that will change. But until it does, it is dumb for Americans to try to learn Mandarin. Jon Huntsman learned it. Apparently he thought it would give him a leg up against competition in the 21st century. Nope. When he ran for president, he finished well back in the pack. And looked a bit silly when he showed off his Mandarin.

Mandarin and the other Chinese dialects are just objectively really dopey in their design. And the fact that hundreds of millions of Chinese are studying English makes it even dopier for Americans to study Mandarin now. From an obvious efficiency standpoint, the Chinese ought to learn our language, which I am interpolating would take about 800 hours based on the State Department’s Spanish rule, rather than our spending 2,200 hours learning theirs. If the objective is communicating between the natives of the two countries, far fewer man hours are required if the Chinese study English than if Americans study Mandarin.

There was a similar push to learn Japanese in the late 1970s. They were the Asians who were going to take over the world back then. How’d that work out for you?

I suggest people considering learning Mandarin, or having their kids learn it:

1. track down someone who did this several years ago and was successful at both learning it and utilizing it to their career advantage as they expected to

2. ask what, if anything they would have done differently toward that end if they had it do over

3. ask if it was worth the time, effort, and cost

I predict you will be unable to complete step one.

If you still insist on having your kids learn Mandarin, I must ask: Will you also be converting the 8-track and betamax tapes in your fallout shelter to Mandarin?

Also, I am curious:

• How do Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dictionaries and filing systems put things in alphabetical order when they have no alphabet? I believe I read they do it by the number of strokes in a character, but how would would then sequence them within, say, the two-stroke section? [tentative answer from a Google search: Chinese has no standard "alphabetical order". However, the Pinyin transcription system uses the Latin alphabet in the familiar order (with some additional sounds) as explained on this site: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/mandarin.htm]

• The Japanese military had to use an alphabet to send Morse code during World War II. That suggests to me that those picture written languages must have to program computers with Mandarin translated to an alphabet. I am well aware that they can create Adobe post-script type translators to convert Chinese characters to the alphabet programming and back again at the other end, but doesn’t the underlying programming have to use an alphabet?

• What the hell does a non-alphabet keyboard look like? I heard that Japanese typewriters in the pre-computer days looked like large church organ keyboards. (I just Googled that. It is as big of a disaster as you would expect. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_in ... _computers. Basically, they have to abandon their 3,000-year-old culture and use a little common sense, a.k.a. a western alphabet)

It appears, as I expected, that the Chinese had to concoct a third written language—pinyin—to enable Mandarin speakers to put things in alphabetical order and to create mechanical and digital ways to print or transmit or store things written in Manadarin electronically. If you want to learn Mandarin, you must also learn both traditional character writing and pinyin in order to use keyboards or to put things in an order that can be used to search for information. Learning spoken Mandarin and only pinyin writing would be roughly equal to learning a normal language. Having to learn traditional Chinese writing as well increases the d
"The object of life is not to be on the side of the majority but to escape finding oneself in the ranks of the insane." Marcus Aurelius, Roman Emperor and stoic philosopher, 121-180 A.D.

momopi
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Post by momopi » June 4th, 2013, 6:53 pm

• How do Chinese, Japanese, and Korean dictionaries and filing systems put things in alphabetical order when they have no alphabet? I believe I read they do it by the number of strokes in a character, but how would would then sequence them within, say, the two-stroke section? [tentative answer from a Google search: Chinese has no standard "alphabetical order". However, the Pinyin transcription system uses the Latin alphabet in the familiar order (with some additional sounds) as explained on this site: http://www.omniglot.com/writing/mandarin.htm]


For traditional Chinese learners, you can use bopomofo, somewhat like the Japanese furigana for Chinese characters. Traditional Chinese dictionaries can arrange characters by compounds, radicals, and strokes.


• The Japanese military had to use an alphabet to send Morse code during World War II. That suggests to me that those picture written languages must have to program computers with Mandarin translated to an alphabet. I am well aware that they can create Adobe post-script type translators to convert Chinese characters to the alphabet programming and back again at the other end, but doesn't the underlying programming have to use an alphabet?

First, the Japanese use Kanji, Katakana, and Hiragana. Mahjong can be written as 麻將 in Chinese characters or マージャン phonetically.

Second, computers are binary -- 0's and 1's. Your computer doesn't "speak" ABC's, it speaks 01000001 01000010 01000011

It doesn't matter if it's print "hello world" in python or 印出 "哈囉,世界" in Chinese python, your computer still sees it as 0's and 1's. English has a dominate position in software because much of it was developed in the US, and companies like Intel, Microsoft, and Apple dominates the market.



• What the hell does a non-alphabet keyboard look like? I heard that Japanese typewriters in the pre-computer days looked like large church organ keyboards. (I just Googled that. It is as big of a disaster as you would expect. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_in ... _computers. Basically, they have to abandon their 3,000-year-old culture and use a little common sense, a.k.a. a western alphabet)
It appears, as I expected, that the Chinese had to concoct a third written language—pinyin—to enable Mandarin speakers to put things in alphabetical order and to create mechanical and digital ways to print or transmit or store things written in Manadarin electronically. If you want to learn Mandarin, you must also learn both traditional character writing and pinyin in order to use keyboards or to put things in an order that can be used to search for information. Learning spoken Mandarin and only pinyin writing would be roughly equal to learning a normal language. Having to learn traditional Chinese writing as well increases the d



I'm not sure if anyone still use the said giant church organ typewriters. On the iPhone, you can input via pinyin, bopomofo, or just write it with your fingers:

Image

Image

Random bopomofo kb:

Image


Japanese input on iPhone:

Image


Korean:

Image


==============


Some historical notes:

The traditional Chinese phonetic system ㄅㄆㄇㄈ (bopomofo) has been around for about 100 years. When the Qing Dynasty was overthrown the new Beiyang government (Republic of China) adopted new public education policies, adopting the bopomofo system as a learning aid to Chinese characters. Note that Chinese is not an alphabet language and the phonetic spelling system is a "learning aid" to Chinese characters. Politically this was a nationalist education agenda to unify the country by teaching a standard, national language. While people across China use Chinese characters, they speak different dialects that sound different. By teaching bopomofo, it enforces standard, exact pronunciation of words.

When the ROC government was defeated by the communists, the Chinese Communist Party did not want the ROC legacy education system. Instead they went with pinyin and simplified Chinese characters. Pinyin use latin alphabet which does not work for Chinese as well as bopomofo in terms of exact pronunciation. Bopomofo today is used in Taiwan and various oversea Chinese language schools. Those who are taught in Taiwan or oversea traditional Chinese language schools pronounce Chinese according to the bopomofo standard, and thus they "sound different" from those educated in Mainland China. Similar situation exists with North and South Korea, where someone from South Korea would notice a person from North Korea speaking differently.

It's said that people develop their range of hearing as an infant, based on parent-child interactions. Thus someone from a language with fewer tones will find it more difficult to learn how to speak another language with more tones. Just as Americans might find it difficult to learn Mandarin, a native Mandarin speaker might find it more difficult to learn how to speak Cantonese. Some people thinks that just because Mainland China use pinyin with latin alphabet, they don't need to learn Chinese because they can just read the pinyin in "English". Um, no, pinyin is used to spell Chinese words, so the sign might read "Jilin baoyuanfeng..."

Image

Jester
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Post by Jester » June 5th, 2013, 12:46 am

Great thread.

I recently bought 2 books by John T Reed, first books I have bought in years.
"Well actually, she's not REALLY my daughter. But she does like to call me Daddy... at certain moments..."

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Post by ladislav » June 5th, 2013, 4:42 am

He has the guts to say what I was always trying to tell many people- learning Asian languages is often a waste of time ( not always, but often). I noticed that the happiest foreigners in the East were various Anglos with money who never spoke the language beyond a few words and who thus were in their own bubble not knowing what people around them were saying. Some had manias of grandeur and an illusion of being colonialists ( while on discretionary visas in the country). There was surprisingly great wisdom in that approach.

Having said all that, if you speak an Asian language, you can make friends with many locals and at least cherry pick people; it's mostly strangers that don't know you that give you racist hard times.

Asians are about 100 years behind in racial attitudes- they have never had a Million Man March nor did they have a PC movement whose main goal was- " Don't call me that, you are hurting my feelings, you bigot!" and " Don't use that term/word when you address me".

It might be another 100-200 years when they are finally called on the carpet by the world community and asked to stop insulting people. But that will take one thing- people will need to speak their language and point it out to them. Who will do it? Not the guilt-ridden Anglos.
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Post by Teal Lantern » June 5th, 2013, 5:14 am

ladislav wrote:... I noticed that the happiest foreigners in the East were various Anglos with money who never spoke the language beyond a few words and who thus were in their own bubble not knowing what people around them were saying. Some had manias of grandeur and an illusion of being colonialists ( while on discretionary visas in the country). There was surprisingly great wisdom in that approach....
'Anglos with money' are pretty happy at "home", too. :lol:

Con mucho dinero, cerveza frio, y senoritas bonitas**, and everyone calls you El Jefe!**, how many more words do you need? :razz:

** however it is you say them in Asian. :lol:
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Post by Dudevondudenstein » June 5th, 2013, 5:29 am

I looked at several languages I wanted to learn and then decided I would never spend enough time in those countries to be able to use the languages and the countries I do want to spend time in already speak well enough English I do not have to learn another language.

Maybe someday I will learn Spanish as seems to be our second language in the United States.

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Post by terminator » June 5th, 2013, 7:41 am

Dudevondudenstein wrote:I looked at several languages I wanted to learn and then decided I would never spend enough time in those countries to be able to use the languages and the countries I do want to spend time in already speak well enough English I do not have to learn another language.

Maybe someday I will learn Spanish as seems to be our second language in the United States.
I agree. Anyway, as adults we've passed the window of time to easily pick-up a new language so its too hard for most people anyway...

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Post by xiongmao » June 5th, 2013, 9:48 am

Nice infographic, although I don't believe Korean people use Chinese characters any more. And the Arabic speakers in my class use quite a few English sounding words. Not sure how "pure" their Arabic is though.

Any language can be mastered - I sat through some of the Mandarin speaking competition in my school this week and the foreigners from various countries were very good indeed. Women are much better at learning languages, because they speak a lot more.

Pinyin is quite a new system, old people here don't often know it. There are all kinds of input systems for typing Chinese characters but we foreigners are best with pinyin.

Hand writing of characters from memory is very hard to master but it comes with practice. Reading is somewhat easier and I can now make sense of most bus stop timetables (which don't have any English on them at all). I can also send basic text messages on my phone using pinyin input.
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Post by Ghost » October 15th, 2013, 5:56 pm

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Post by Contrarian Expatriate » October 15th, 2013, 8:42 pm

Asian languages should be learned while young. Jim Rogers has his children learning mandarin and they speak it quite well.

I speak Spanish, and French but my next two languages will be Russian and Serbo-Croation. That will be a challenge but that will be it.

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Post by ladislav » October 15th, 2013, 10:05 pm

I started learning Tagalog when I was 38 and in Saudi. I am fairly fluent now although I do make grammar mistakes-- most verbs are in passive and they have several prefixes, infixes and suffixes. Some adjectives are a mile long.

Some 50 percent will talk back to you in Tagalog and some will pointedly answer in English. It does help you make friends with the common populace- workers, farmers, etc. Earns you populist wings. And you can make very close friends with some really great local people who will treat you as a family member. Those girls who want to emigrate to the West by marrying a porinar want an English speaker. If you want to deal with the local market, you will have more success in Tagalog. And you will have virtually no competition from other porinarz.

The problem comes from strangers- people who don't know you. And to an Asian person, a Western stranger is always a tourist who has just arrived. Many avoid you, become sullen and silent and give you side glances.

Several centuries of Western colonialism and occupations of all kind have messed them up big time.

Brits know how to deal with it. They strictly and haughtily talk to people in English and the locals seem to feel it to be the most natural way to communicate with the white devil who is incorrigible.

Things are never clear cut in Asia, though. On one occasion I was on a scooter with two Filipinos trying to enter Panagsama beach in Cebu where Pilipinos paid 5 pesos to enter but porinarz paid 20. I spoke to them in Visaya and they looked at me, smiled and said "You are not a porinar, you are a Pilipino" and charged me 5 pesos.

Next time I got bolder. I told the new guard that we were "all" Filipinos in Cebuano. He did not smile, did not ask for my passport, but just pulled out 5 peso receipts and let us all in.

On one occasion when my mother was in Cebu with me we went to a fort and we were speaking our Ukrainian variety of Russian to each other. The guard who was giving out the tickets was giving us funny looks. Then as we bought tickets, he asked us our nationality. I said we were "Amerikano". He nodded and gave us the tickets.

I can never understand how their minds work no matter how long I deal with them.
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Post by Halwick » October 16th, 2013, 2:32 am

[quote="ladislav"]I started learning Tagalog when I was 38 and in Saudi. I am fairly fluent now although I do make grammar mistakes-- most verbs are in passive and they have several prefixes, infixes and suffixes. Some adjectives are a mile long.

Some 50 percent will talk back to you in Tagalog and some will pointedly answer in English. It does help you make friends with the common populace- workers, farmers, etc. Earns you populist wings. And you can make very close friends with some really great local people who will treat you as a family member. Those girls who want to emigrate to the West by marrying a porinar want an English speaker. If you want to deal with the local market, you will have more success in Tagalog. And you will have virtually no competition from other porinarz.

The problem comes from strangers- people who don't know you. And to an Asian person, a Western stranger is always a tourist who has just arrived. Many avoid you, become sullen and silent and give you side glances.

Several centuries of Western colonialism and occupations of all kind have messed them up big time.

Brits know how to deal with it. They strictly and haughtily talk to people in English and the locals seem to feel it to be the most natural way to communicate with the white devil who is incorrigible.

Things are never clear cut in Asia, though. On one occasion I was on a scooter with two Filipinos trying to enter Panagsama beach in Cebu where Pilipinos paid 5 pesos to enter but porinarz paid 20. I spoke to them in Visaya and they looked at me, smiled and said "You are not a porinar, you are a Pilipino" and charged me 5 pesos.

Next time I got bolder. I told the new guard that we were "all" Filipinos in Cebuano. He did not smile, did not ask for my passport, but just pulled out 5 peso receipts and let us all in.

On one occasion when my mother was in Cebu with me we went to a fort and we were speaking our Ukrainian variety of Russian to each other. The guard who was giving out the tickets was giving us funny looks. Then as we bought tickets, he asked us our nationality. I said we were "Amerikano". He nodded and gave us the tickets.

I can never understand how their minds work no matter how long I deal with them.[/quote]


A friend of mine who is fluent in Japanese and was travelling in Japan got lost and asked the friendly policeman in JAPANESE, directions to a particular place. The policeman responded that he doesn't speak English. My friend, told him very politely and clearly in Japanese, "If you listen to me, you will hear that I am speaking to you in Japanese."

The policeman was astounded that a Gaijin could speak Japanese very well.

Another time we were having lunch in a Little Tokyo restaurant in Los Angeles and overheard two Japanese businessmen complaining about the Gaijins in the U.S. We privately laughed at the Japanese businessmen who had no clue that in the U.S., THEY were the Gaijins.

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Post by Halwick » October 16th, 2013, 2:36 am

Don’t learn Mandarin!


So, maybe we should learn Cantonese instead? :P

Mr. S...Very interesting dissertation on language and its appropriate application, though.

Re Esperanto: I didn't know it was still in use. Whereabouts is it used?

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Post by Ghost » October 16th, 2013, 4:32 am

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Post by ladislav » October 16th, 2013, 6:19 am

A friend of mine who is fluent in Japanese and was travelling in Japan got lost and asked the friendly policeman in JAPANESE, directions to a particular place. The policeman responded that he doesn't speak English. My friend, told him very politely and clearly in Japanese, "If you listen to me, you will hear that I am speaking to you in Japanese."

The policeman was astounded that a Gaijin could speak Japanese very well.

Another time we were having lunch in a Little Tokyo restaurant in Los Angeles and overheard two Japanese businessmen complaining about the Gaijins in the U.S. We privately laughed at the Japanese businessmen who had no clue that in the U.S., THEY were the Gaijins.
Oh those two examples are classic all over the Orient. In Japan it's less and less so because now there are many foreigners living there and speaking in Japanese. I was happy to see that people were talking more and more in Japanese to me now.

The second one is " eternal". I sometimes confronted them with it. Some Japanese called me a gaijin in Thailand. I told them they were gaijin, too. One agreed, the other one snapped back at me- "I am yellow, like them, see?"

One Filipino in Saudi called me a "porener". I told him that he was a "porener" too. The other Filipino got indignant. "I am not a foreigner, I am a Filipino" he said.

Americans used to be like that, too. Go on a cruise and then walk around and say about the locals- "Oh, those foreigners". But that generation is dead now and the PC one has risen.

Until these East Asian people ( in Asia) open up their minds, they cannot be allowed to run the world. They are just not ready- they are 50 years behind when it comes to cultural sensitivities. Americans are pretty bad, but those really take the cake
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