Will everyone be speaking Chinese in 2030?

 

 

Every now and again I hear someone say something along these lines:   “oh yeah, well, everyone’ll be speaking Chinese in…“.  As I’ve been down that path, I thought I’d share the insider story and why I have a hard time ever seeing that happen.  So, without further ado, 4 reasons why I don’t think Chinese will be the next lingua franca:

 

1) Most everyone will share a language, but it won’t be Chinese.

a) It will be (or rather, it is) English.  English hasn’t been crowned the lingua franca, and it never will be, and maybe the reason for that is that there is no longer a symbolic head to be crowned.  That’s the magic of what English has become:  international.  It has grown far beyond national borders, and well past its native speakers.

b) On Tuesday I enjoyed listening to Stephen Krashen speak at an IATEFL and EVO online presentation.  Beyond the many ESL insights he shared, he also quipped:  “In the US, everyone thinks Mandarin is going to take over, but no, not even close.  I think this is a fantasy.  English is still so far ahead”. Dr. Krashen did also mention that drinking multiple cups of coffee, becoming bilingual and reading can help delay senility.  Good to know!

c) Become bilingual because it’s wonderful (and because it’s good for proper aging!).  For what it’s worth, there’s been another interesting NY Times article floating around this week which poses the question:  “English is global, so why learn Arabic?” centering around increasing international job competition for the majority of monolingual US citizens.  I do think it’s beneficial and important that native speakers of English venture outside of their linguistic comfort zone, but that’s a whole ‘nutha issue.

 

2) The Chinese are all learning English

Upon returning from Shanghai this past year I saw this:

HSBC ad in french says “5X as many English learners in China than inhabitants in England”

 

Nuff said…

 

3) If the Chinese speak English, then what need is there to learn Chinese?

Of course, for scholastic reasons it’s important.  For cultural exchange.  For fun, but bottom line, if two speakers who don’t share a native language in common are communicating, they will almost always choose the language which is most comfortable for both parties.  I can’t imagine how students around the world will ever learn enough Mandarin to match the Chinese level of English.

More importantly, it would probably be those international student’s third or fourth language, and considering the amount of time required to master Chinese, is it really worth the necessary investment of time? (unless of course they’re a big language geek like me who can’t seem to get enough).  Here’s another blogger’s interesting take on the subject (5 reasons why learning Chinese might be a waste of your time), but in the end, one language will be the common language and if the Chinese speak better English than the the rest of the world speaks Chinese, then English it will be.  No?

The international scales have tipped towards English, and I can’t see it tipping back for this final and probably most significant reason…

 

4) Chinese is an enormous linguistic challenge

a) Been there, done that… still doing that because it really is a lifelong journey.  I just answered a question on Quora comparing the difficulty of learning Chinese with that of French, Spanish and Italian.  BIG difference.

b) The most famous foreigner in China is DaShan, (大山, “big mountain”) a Canadian who has appeared on Chinese television since the late 80s and speaks “impeccable Mandarin”.  Here’s his take on Quora on “how long it takes a foreigner to become fluent in Chinese”:

“Fluent” is a relative concept. I would summarize:

2 years to lie on your resume and hope no Chinese speaker interviews you for a job (because 2 years is enough to bullshit your way through a situation in front of non-speakers). 5 years for basic fluency, but with difficulty. 10 years to feel comfortable in the language. One lifetime is not enough to attain the level of a native speaker, unless you start before the age of 10. (I was 19)

c) I’m really enjoying reading a book called “Babel No More” by Michael Erard exploring language superlearners (hyperpolyglots) and how we can make sense of their linguistic feats.  The author traces the history of one of the world’s greatest known polyglot, Mezzofanti, an Italian cardinal who supposedly had 70+ languages under his belt. However, when the master of languages started learning Chinese characters, “he suffered a nervous breakdown and lost every language he knew except his mother tongue, Bolognese”.  Ok… anecdotal at best, I know… and don’t worry, Mezzofanti got this hard-earned languages back and did tackle spoken Chinese later. 

Yeah, it’s tough… which reminds me of a fun post I pulled together last year in June: What’s the hardest language in the world is the wrong question.

 

CONCLUSION:

I agree with Stephen Krashen.  ;-)  This is a fantasy whipped up for a bit of controversial conversation, but really it doesn’t have much founding at all, kind of like that question we saw in November: “Is English Really Dying again?”.  I think there will certainly be a surge in learners of Chinese around the world and more power to them.  I continue to love my journey down the path of Chinese, however, I just can’t ever seeing it become a lingua franca.  There’s only so much that can be expected linguistically of the students of the world, and English has the upper hand and why would that change?

 

So… whaddya think?

 

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  • Chris Wilson

    A Nice summary of points,
    It would be interesting to see what factors lead to Lingua Franca losing it’s position as number one. I suspect the fact that it was a regional language and not a global one like English[es] have become. 
    I also wonder though if ELF will take on it’s own separate form [no 3rd person singular S, no irregular 2+3rd forms etc] and if will all be teaching that in a few years. However, I guess that debates been going for some time now with no real clear answers.
    Thanks again brad :)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Chris. Thanks for the comment.

    I’m sure there are tomes written on just such subject. In the past it certainly had as much to do with political power as anything else. The difference these days is globalization and how the lingua franca is not only for the upper tier of speakers (politicians/intellectuals/artists as in the past), but it includes everyone. The ELF simplification question is an interesting one. We’ll just have to wait and see where it all goes, but I would assume that it’ll take a bit of regional flavor wherever it is.

  • http://twitter.com/PatrickAndrews Patrick Andrews

    A very interesting posting.

    Maybe Chinese will not replace English as the world language soon but I would suspect it will become a more and more important language in Asia.  Also, although Chinese might not take the same roles as a lingua franca as English where a Moroccan might talk to a Brazilian, it will be very important for people to learn it in order to know what an influential country is thinking.

    Chinese is hard for speakers of European languages to learn but of course it works the other way.  English is difficult for Chinese learners but as we see, a large number of Chinese do manage to speak well.  So, English speakers can learn Chinese if time and good teaching is provided.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    A well-balanced response. Thanks for sharing, Patrick.

    I agree there will be a greater and greater increase in Chinese language learning, especially in the East, just as I think there’ll be an increase in Spanish language learning in the West. Second and third language acquisition will continue to be regional, and yet I still think we’ve reached a satiation point for English as an international language. I was just reading an article yesterday about Mongolia declaring English as an official language in 2005. I think many countries will follow suit, and just can’t see it happening for Mandarin in the same way for the reasons already mentioned. (http://ubpost.mongolnews.mn/index.php/2011-07-24-01-47-35/88888945-opiniontop/6802-official-foreign-language-could-hold-key-to-further-development-)
    Whereas Lingua franca have changed often over the past millenia, I think the big difference now is the high level of globalization and the non-sovereign association that English is quickly having as an association (as opposed to Chinese). The tipping point is here now, and maybe it’s like highlander ;-) “there can be only one” (laughing at the horrible analogy… but laughing all the same).

  • http://twitter.com/theteacherjames James Taylor

    Really interesting post Brad. I think the key point here is that we won’t have to. Leaving aside the cultural ramifications of this, the fact remains that the Chinese in general have a much better attitude about these things than we do. You only have to look at the huge growth in the EFL industry in the country (and East Asia in general) to see how much more determined they are than us. We are still discussing whether or not we should be learning their language, while they are long past that point and have got on with integrating it into their education system and businesses. We who speak English as a first language should thank our lucky stars we were born at this time.

  • Douglas Green

    Foreign language teaching in most US schools accomplishes little in the way of fluency. The most important things you need to learn another language are context, motivation, and immersion and you usually have none of these ingredients. Even when you travel you hear English media and find people who want to practice their English on you. I spent three years studying German in school and came away with just about zero ability. When I went to Sweden in 1980, I stayed with my mother’s older cousins who spoke no English and lived in a small village. I studied some vocabulary before I went and after two weeks of immersion, I was able to parse sentences on the fly way better than anything I ever did in school. I was motivated and spent about eight hours a day working on learning Swedish. I keep asking questions like what do you call that, and asking people to repeat and talk slower. I’m sure some teachers do their best, but the odds are against them. Great post. Keep up the good work.

  • Skrashen

    MANADARIN FEVER
    Letter to the editor sent to the Detroit News,
    March 10, 2006

    Articles similar to the Post’s “With a Changing World Comes An Urgency to Learn Chinese,” (August 26) have been appearing in newspapers throughout the US this year, e.g. San Diego Union-Tribune (“In-demand language,”  Dec. 12, 2005), “Seattle Times (“Chinese language study catching on in the US,” Jan 2, 2006), the Post (“Mandarin makes inroads in US schools,” January 3, 2006), The Lansing State Journal (“Preschools will offer Chinese,” April 27, 2006), The Detroit News (“State teens learn Chinese online,” May 10, 2006), and The San Francisco Chronicle (“Starr King Elementary talks the talk (in Mandarin),” August 21, 2006). In addition, the current Post article also appeared in the Houston Chronicle.

    Each of these articles features a headline that gives the impression that large numbers of students are studying Mandarin in the US, and that the number is growing at a rapid pace. A careful reading of each of the articles, however, reveals that only a few Mandarin programs exist and they serve small numbers of students.

    The programs mentioned by the Detroit News are typical. One US-China Center program will reach 240 students, and new Mandarin preschool programs in Lansing and East Lansing will include a total of 52 children. Even if the number of students studying Mandarin in the US is increasing, as some claim, Mandarin has a long way to go: The Post notes that only 24,000 students are studying Mandarin in the US; five million are studying Spanish.

    What is clearly on the increase is the number of newspaper articles about the popularity of Mandarin.  American journalists, it seems, are willing agents, helping Beijing’s National Office for Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language (Hanban) in its campaign to promote Mandarin world-wide, fanning the flames of Mandarin Fever in newspapers throughout the US (See Michael Erard’s  “The Mandarin Offensive,” in Wired, April 14, 2006).

    I don’t think this is a bad thing. There are very good practical and cultural reasons to acquire Chinese.

    Stephen Krashen

    State teens learn Chinese online
    Interest in language grows with China’s increasing global influence
    Christine MacDonald / The Detroit News
    May 10, 2006

  • http://twitter.com/Maylis_v Maylis

    A very interesting article! I was somewhat jealous of my friends learning and  speaking Chinese and wanted to start studying the language hoping to use it in a professional environement but it looks like it would better if I stick to my English and the other two languages I am studying at the moment (Spanish and Russian).

    If one day I decide to learn Chinese, it will be because as Michel Bouthot said quite well “Acquérir une autre langue, c’est acquérir un supplément d’âme” :)

  • http://www.pearltrees.com/maizie/efl/id4135001#pearl34544535&show=reveal,6 EFL | Pearltrees

    [...] CONCLUSION: I agree with Stephen Krashen. ;-) This is a fantasy whipped up for a bit of controversial conversation, but really it doesn’t have much founding at all, kind of like that question we saw in November: “Is English Really Dying again?” . Will everyone be speaking Chinese in 2030? | A journée in language. [...]

  • http://twitter.com/naomishema Naomi Epstein

    Well Brad, you seem to be in excellent company. Everyone I have read (in magazines) on the subject agrees with you. And you have one up on them – they say that Mandarin is hard to learn – you KNOW!
    A great read!

  • Anonymous

    Hi Brad,

    Another very interesting post.  I spent a year in Taiwan and could never get my head around the  language.  After a couple of weeks living in Brazil I knew more Portuguese than I had learned Chinese. 

    Another point to remember is that a lot of the predictions for Mandarin taking over the world are based on a future unified and strong China.  There are many commentators who point to a number of economic and political problems within China that might, just might, lead to a destabilised country.

    Stephen Greene
    http://www.tmenglish.org

  • http://twitter.com/seburnt Tyson Seburn

    No, I don’t think Mandarin will ever take over, nor will any language that is too difficult to learn for English speakers.  English is adaptive and from what I hear, easier to learn and have rudimentary communication for survival in most quickly (despite the groans and moans from years of learners about lack of fluency). Besides, English already has a lot of financial investment in it.  Big business (not to mention the language learning industry alone) is predominantly English; technical literature is predominantly English; signs are predominantly English.  That would take a lot of resources to change.  Plus, China has never been about taking over the world, historically, even though it had the chance several times.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ty-Kendall/662755104 Ty Kendall

    Hey Brad!
    I agree that the world won’t be speaking Mandarin/Chinese in 20 years time. As someone who has spent a little bit of time in China (same place as you remember!) and dabbled in Mandarin learning, I can vouch for the fact that linguistically, it takes more commitment that most languages for two main reasons -  the writing system and the tones (which are alien to most learners of Chinese) – I’m trying to avoid the word “difficult” or “hard” because these things are all relative, but there’s no denying the complexity of the writing system compared to standard alphabets.
    I completely disagree with the China expat though (from your link). Most of the arguments there against learning Chinese seem to boil down to limited monetary/market value of learning Chinese. Personally, I’ve always found the economic arguments for learning a language quite vulgar and definitely not a solid reason to start learning a language – for many reasons – mainly that the market value of a language cannot be predicted, especially as it takes years to learn a language…and markets can shift….so I’ve never seen it as a wise decision to learn XX language because you think you’ll get rich by speaking it. However, this is a delusion suffered by many at the moment fueled by constant hype about how China is such an emerging superpower.
    If you’re going to learn a language, Chinese included, it’s got to be for reasons other than money.
    Getting back to the nitty gritty…..
    The way things look at the moment, all the BRIC languages ([Brazilian] Portuguese, Russian, Hindi and Chinese)  may gain some prominence, if language proliferation can still be linked to economic growth…. I’m not sure economic growth necessarily entails linguistic growth anymore. After all, English’s prevalence is also cultural, historical etc.
    It would take a hell of a lot to knock English of the pedestal it currently sits on…and it would take a lot longer than 20 years if it were to happen (I reckon).
    The only thing I disagree with is that English has “outgrown” its native speakers, but that’s a debate for another post :-)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I think you’ve put your finger on the main point which came through indirectly in my post, but not as directly as it should of::: english is just so far ahead and so dominant and no longer a sovereign language but an international one.  The scales have been tipped its way and it would take so much to change this as you’ve said.  

    Interesting comment about China taking over the world… without breaking out into a huge political discussion, it has invested very heavily in Africa, Europe and the Americas in the past 10 years, and it is certainly to have a strong foothold in those regions… it’s all through economics, however, not brute force as other powers have used historically.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Yes, it’s a tough, tough language and does take a number of years to really wrap around, and even then it takes quite a bit of effort on a daily basis.  Romance languages are so much easier for us in many ways.

    Having lived in China for 3 years I can see the types of issues you’re bringing up and yet at the same time there is a sense of nationalism over individualism that hasn’t existed in the West for at least 20 years.  It’ll be interesting to see how China evolves over the next 10 years.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks Naomi.  The funny thing is that yes I can speak “around the house” Chinese and that in itself is a great feat and years of study.  Moving past that would really take another  or 3 years of intense study/work/immersion within the country.  I can’t imagine more than 1% of international citizens that would ever have that desire/freedom to plunge as deeply into a language experience.  

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Love that quote, Maylis and I agree wholeheartedly.  I can feel a different personality with each language I speak and it’s wonderful to connect with a culture through their language.  It really is like discovering another soul.

    I think you’re smart to focus on spanish and russian for professional reasons.  If you really wanted to learn Chinese for professional pursuits it’d be a multi-year journey before it would become useful (especially as an interpreter/translator as is your case).

    We just can’t do it all… even if we’d love too!  Cheers for the comment.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Stephen,

    Thanks so much for sharing this article.  I wonder to what extent this perception, both from a popular and journalist point-of-view has changed in the past 5 years.  I was just arriving in China when the article came out and it was about the time when EVERYONE started talking about China all the time in the national press. China has evolved so quickly that I can understand why there is such a mandarin craze (even if it isn’t as strong in reality as it appears to be).

    For the sake of discussion, I’ll lay humility to the wayside and share that I think I’m a fairly gifted language learner, both in experience, natural ability and motivation.  I whipped through French, Spanish and Italian in a few months and a year in those countries provided a very fluent ease and native-like accent.  3 years in China left me impressive to a Chinese ear but mostly because very few foreigners ever achieve an adequate level of Chinese. So how does this bode for an average language learner? 

    I still have blatant holes in my Chinese and only another 2 or 3  years of intense study could take me beyond that intermediate position.  Of course maybe those students who started Mandarin in Lansing at a young age and with appropriate methods will have a slightly easier go with it, but it’s simply a huge linguistic challenge and one that I can’t see more than 1 out of 100 students taking on if English has already been crowned the international language and if a majority of Internationally-focused Chinese speak effective English.

    Hope to catch you at a conference or webinar again soon.  Enjoy the grandkids n coffee! ;-)

    -Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks for sharing, Douglas.

    I was lucky to have a good french teacher in high school and her passion took me all the way to travelling to France.  6 months there set me on linguistic journeys that have since filled my life.  I agree wholeheartedly that context, motivation and immersion are important ingredients and they are often not present in grammar mcnugget textbook/large class approaches to language learning as we often see in the states.  You’re right… teachers are up against a tough wall especially if their materials are chosen by the administration and don’t promote positive trends in language learning.My language-learning experiences seem very much like how you dove into Swedish.  Fun,right!  

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Cheers 4 the comment, James.

    LUCKY we are, and that luck we should not take for granted.  I agree, English has been adapted to so many non-native speaking contexts now that I can’t imagine a third language coming in and changing that all… be it Chinese or any other.  Only so much time we can dedicate to the linguistic channels through which the people of the world will channel their OTHER primary professional pursuits… cuz in the end, outside of teachers/translators the language is only a secondary (though very important) tool.  Of course, I still think they’re my favorite gadgets and would never undervalue them… however, that’s another discussion.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Jeff,

    Thanks for drumming up these numbers.  Very interesting indeed.  As I mentioned in my response to Dr. Krashen, I left for China in 2006 which was right around the time that it felt the press was talking wildly about the Middle Kingdom (both for economic/ Mandarin craze reasons).  Interesting to see how the “talk” has continued and yet the numbers of language learners really hasn’t exploded yet.  New industry really and I can understand that it’ll take awhile to expand.

    So, I do imagine the number of students will continue to increase and yet I question the methods that will be employed and the effectiveness for learners, especially if it’s a majority of Chinese teachers from HanBan.  I know the approaches used for foreign students in China which weren’t the most effective or supported by recent SLA studies.  For such a challenging language, it’ll take very innovative methods to keep students motivated and learning effectively.  I’d say it has its value, though, as Mandarin has been the most fascinating language voyage I’ve ever taken.

    Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Aha, Ty.  Enjoyed this response and nodded my head the whole way throughout… until of course the “outgrown” native speakers… I’ve seen your comments on other blogs on the issue, so you’re got me thinking about blogging on it now.  Will keep you posted.

    There are a number of perspectives to take on the “Will Chinese be a lingua franca”.  I think I was taking the language-learning perspective (the effort it would require new learners to acquire both English and Chinese (or one or the other)).  The economic “I’ll get rich if I speak” is a whole nutha issue and I agree with you that it’s a silly motivation, especially considering the fact that it won’t push the majority of learners through the challenge that is Chinese.  You have to love the language for the language… otherwise, it’s probably too much for the average learner.

    Bottom line as you’ve said it and many others… it would take a lot to knock English of its pedestal. Cheers for stopping by and hope all is well for you in Turkey.  

    Best, brad

  • http://twitter.com/CeciELT Cecilia Lemos

    Hey B,

    Very clean, honest. And as everyone has already said, English is too far ahead – and it’s just easier than most other languages as well. But I also don’t think that’s it, no need to learn other languages – and I’m not just talking about language lovers/geeks like us. There’s the accessibility factor too and how widespread English is in music and movie/tv industry.

    Here in Brazil there has been a great shift in the last decade or so. English used to be (massively) the foreign language studied. Spanish has gained a lot of ground – not enough to “steal” being #1 from English (yet). And other changes seem to be in the horizon, with so many companies making their way here – English is on the spot again ;-)

    The way I see it, I won’t be learning Chinese ;-) but I hope I will learn a couple of other languages. And I was thrilled to hear I won’t be senile anytime soon!!!

    Beijo x

  • Michael Erard

    Brad, thanks for the mention of Babel No More in your post. I saw Mezzofanti’s Chinese characters, and they were very rudimentary. He might have spoken a certain amount of one or another Chinese languages, but he sure couldn’t write them. Which raises for me the biggest issue about Mandarin’s popularity in the US: how are all these kids getting sent to Chinese class by economically insecure parents going to become literate enough in the language to be able to work professionally? That’s another big Chinese-related fantasy. I wish DaShan had distinguished oral proficiency from literacy skills. 

  • Anonymous

    By the way, I just heard an ad on the radio for a two-part BBC Radio 4 programme called ‘English in the East’ which will be aired on Feb 14th.  It is about the role of Mandarin in Asia with the premise that it is growing in importance and could overtake English.

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/proginfo/2012/07/250112english-east.html 

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Michael.  My pleasure mentioning your book.  It’s been a wonderful read so far, and I’m vicariously living the adventure you must’ve had while writing it (jealously so). 

    Nice to get the insider story on Mezzofanti’s characters.  I spent 3 months writing characters on my apartment window in China which looked out on a very busy traffic intersection.  That year I saw 36 accidents in front of me (counted them like the days on a prison wall). I think I can remember how to write just about that many characters too!  

    Honestly, it’s a huge challenge if one is trying to be able to write by hand.  My literacy is above-average at best but that’s 100% due to computers and digitalized pinyin (mostly learning to recognize characters through writing sms to my Chinese friends).  My partner has been much more academic in her Mandarin pursuits and after 5 years she’s fairly literate, though still not at the level a 12-year old Chinese student has.  

    For the 1% of international students learning Mandarin who truly succeed I think it will have a very positive impact on their professional career. For the 50% who succeed at acquiring some Chinese I think it’s beneficial as an overall cognitive/cultural experience, though I can’t see how it’ll have a real impact on their careers if they don’t master the language better than their Chinese counterparts do with English. 

    Obviously, the experience of learning a foreign language is positive for anyone who foresees an international career ahead.  However, I wonder if learning a language like Spanish might not be more pertinent, especially for those in the Americas.  Either way, this conversation is very practical/economically-minded, I’d like to finish with the sentiment that learning languages has always been my favorite adventure to have, and that I’m not discouraging anyone, au contraire! 

    Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Would be majestic to catch a senile CC discourse.  You’d be the coolest senile old lady in the world, but the coffee, reading and bilingualism will keep you safe! ;-)  Nice to hear the brazilian perspective, and yes, English is just too far ahead.

    (a small voice in the back of my head still does say though… everything changes, why couldn’t English’s dominance too… and yet that’s just a worry about being “wrong”.  I don’t think I am and can’t really foresee it being any different).   CHEERS!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Ty-Kendall/662755104 Ty Kendall

    I’m back in England now Brad, which, strangely enough means I’ve missed the snow (never thought I’d hear myself say that).
    I didn’t realise I’d commented on the native speaker thing elsewhere, my thoughts on it are quite complex/conflicted because I agree with the other side but….I’ll keep it for your [possible] blog post.
    Sorry a lot of my post was commenting on the link rather than yours directly…I get sidetracked quite easily! :-)
    Personally, from what I’ve experienced of Mandarin, I wouldn’t even consider trying to learn it if I wasn’t in an immersion environment – the pronounciation is a nightmare, I’d need that constant input to even begin to give myself a change of acquiring it.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I hear ya on the immersion side of things, and that’s the way I’ve felt about ALL language learning ever since I’ve had immersion experiences compared to non-immersion learning… oh, just way too hard to learn it any other way.  No worries on commenting on the other link.  It’s all interesting convo.  More soon about the native speakers (think I saw you mention something about it on a turkey blog at some point… can’t remember precisely but it was about native vs. non-native teachers and a new policy in Turkey to hire native teachers… you had mentioned cultural issues at hand, and student expectations).   Cheers, b

  • Jaselevine

    I think it is not the first time I have agreed with you, entirely, on every point; and it is certainly not the first time I have agreed with  Krashen! Another STELLAR bog post!

  • Michael Erard

    I hear you on not discouraging any type of learner and am totally with you in that regard. (For contrast, see this blog post, another response to Babel No More, which mocks learners of Mandarin who are linguistically competent but culturally awkward, compared to monolingual native speakers: http://asiasociety.org/blog/asia/hyperpolyglots-paragon-or-folly). The cultural/cognitive advantages for the 50% (or whatever percentage) will be a great return on the investment (I hope that doesn’t make me sound too much like Larry Summers!), but I think some clarity about the universe of likely outcomes is necessary for any pursuit. I use it when putting together books, too!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks for the link.  Favorite line from that article:

    “Learning the code, but not how to use it to be make beautiful melodies”

    I can understand the “culturally awkward” angle in the article, but the important point to make is not that that devalues language learning; it just underlines the end goal:  intercultural communication which takes understanding both the code and the beauty behind the melody. 

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks Jason! Appreciate you stopping and your kind words. Bon weekend!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    very interesting.  thanks for the link.  will listen to it this weekend and get back to you.  

    Cheers!

  • Kerri

    Hi Brad, 

    Great topic, and one we are discussing in my graduate course (literally, a HUGE topic obviously) at The New School. I agree with many things you stated and we are also discussing the widespread of the English language and the increasing number of L2 speakers of English, and how they outweigh L1′s. English being a very global language.  With this spread of the language there is the possibility of changes to the English language as well. Did Krashen touch upon that at all? Good luck in your journey with learning Mandarin! Thanks for the book recommendation also! I am going to pick it up…….Kerri

  • http://www.facebook.com/tornhalves Torn Halves

    Just wanted to point out the elephant in the room: Hollywood (plus Lady Gaga, Katy Perry and all the associated star-spangled stuff produced in vast quantities by Anglophonic culture industry). China is now the factory of the world, but the US still has cultural hegemony. America knows that Hollywood is its biggest cultural intercontinental ballistic missile – a weapon of mass cultural destruction. While Hollywood remains standing and until China can produce something to sweep it to one side (a new Confucius?) English will survive.

  • http://www.backseatlinguist.com/ Jeff McQuillan

    This just in: I found the 2009 MLA data, and Chinese has narrowed the language gap.  There are now only 10% more students studying dead languages than Mandarin (67,108 for classical languages, 60,976 for Chinese).  Chinese enrollments are up 18%, but Arabic grew 46%, and stands at a little more than half of the Chinese enrollment numbers (35,083). 

    Mandarin is already passe; it’s time for Arabic fever.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hi Kerri.  Thanks for stopping by and sharing your perspective.

    Krashen didn’t touch on the changing nature of English in that presentation, but I’ve written about it quoting other linguists here:  http://www.edulang.com/blog/is-english-really-dying-again/

    Very interesting topic as well, and bottom line is that language is always changing. Another great book rec is “The Unfolding of Language”.  That blew my mind and I highly recommend.

    Keep me posted if you do jump into either of those books.  Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Indeed, that is one of the big elephants and the other is the Western fear of Chinese economic dominance in the next 20 years.  

    An interesting hollywood anecdote:  I was in China in November and heard a new expression that blew my mind.  Before Chinese youth would say “我的天呢“ which is their equivalent of OMG and literally means “Oh my sky (as in where god is)”.  In the past year it’s been entirely swallowed by “我的ladygaga” or “oh my lady gaga”.  This is coming from a country where the average citizen had nearly no awareness of Hollywood even 10 years ago (though a majority of rural citizens still don’t).  That’s all changing very fast.

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Arabic fever…  I think I could be tempted to study a Semitic language one of these days.  Finally read “The Unfolding of Language” which is a wonderful introduction to their unique pure-consonant verb roots.  

    Look forward to catching more of your updates @ the BackSeat Linguist.  Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Thanks for your kind words, Thomas.  

    I agree; that ad says quite a bit.   It was an odd moment when I saw it… just coming back from China and realizing how fast that country is changing.  Wonder how many learners there were only 10 years ago and now 400 million (though others say closer to 300M).Cheers, Brad

  • http://vickyloras.wordpress.com/ Vicky Loras

    Hi Brad!

    A really interesting topic.

    In one of the schools I taught here, Chinese started making its way through teaching it once a week, for a very short time. It didn’t last much though, because the children found it much too hard and the parents asked for the focus to return to English.

    When I first came to Switzerland just three years ago, English was not so popular or necessary for jobs – it is so surprising to see, in this last year, the huge boom in the demand in English – it’s unbelievable! And so much so in a country like Switzerland, where people have to learn a lot of languages anyway, as it is a quadrilingual (?) country.

    It is great that you have tackled such a subject, for the reason that we hear that Chinese will become the most popular language and people start learning it, but I will also echo lots of the commenters above that I do not think it will become the most widely-spoken language in the future.

    Super post!
    Vicky

    Super post!

     

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    (edited your comment as the formatting was thrown off by disqus’s response to copy/paste)

    Thanks for this article as well, Stephen.  

    As you noted, the scales are not even at all, and I don’t think it’ll change anytime soon.  All of the wealthy Chinese these days are sending their children abroad and many of them come back speaking wonderful English.  In 3 years in China I met 2 westerners who spoke anywhere near as good of a level of Mandarin when compared to these newly returned international Chinese.  

    So if high level politicians and businessmen in China speak pretty good or wonderful English, then there’s even less value to spending years and years learning the language if one’s motivation are business-motivated.  I think those that are economically motivated to learn Chinese would be better off understanding the culture and learning a bit of language just to show their intercultural competence, but having a goal of even becoming intermediate in Mandarin is a task requiring quite the dedication.  Maybe that time could be spent better elsewhere.

    Again, I’ll underline the point that learning Mandarin is wonderful and for cultural/cognitive reasons, and I highly recommend it.  I just don’t get the craze if it’s for “improving one’s job opportunities” as I don’t think you get out what you put in, unless you put in for a long, long time, OR put it for a short time and use it for 关系 and impressing your international hosts.

  • Chia Suan Chong

    哦我的Lady Gaga? Really? OMG!!!
    I must admit, Torn Halves makes a really good point about the cultural and social capital still being held by the USA in more ways than just Hollywood, although Hollywood on its own is a force to be reckoned with. 

    A great post, Brad! And there’s no better person to write it! 

    Just for others reading this, I am Singaporean and speak both English and Chinese as my first language (although my Chinese has been rather neglected and should really be labelled as my second language lately), and I can attest to the fact that Brad’s command of the Chinese language is amazing. You are truly a linguistic genius and to be able to speak with such a local accent in a language as challenging as Chinese in simply three years is something I haven’t seen much of in non-Asian learners. 

    Yes, Chinese is challenging, for all those reasons you mentioned – the writing, the unlimited number of characters one has to learn, the reliance on the tones to make meaning clear… But in my opinion, what makes Chinese (or rather, Mandarin) really difficult for the foreigner, is the large use of idiomatic language, proverbs (of different structures and formats), collocations, etc., many of which have historical and cultural implications and backgrounds. (Have you looked at the etymology of 歇后语, Brad? It’s fascinating!) If there’s one language where the lexical approach should really be the only approach to learning the language, it’s Chinese!

    Well, some may say that with a first language like English, clearly European languages would be closer to home, and therefore easier to master…some may say that Chinese is clearly going to be more difficult for those speaking Germanic-Slavic-Latin -based languages, but allow me to debunk that myth…

    I speak Japanese as a second language (I was put into Japanese classes when Japan’s economy was booming in the 80s and my parents thought it a good idea). I ended up falling in love with the language and the culture (mainly due to a Japanese boy band craze in my teenage years) but am happy to admit that despite there being three sets of written forms, one of which includes older Chinese characters (different from the newer characters that China uses today), Japanese is a much easier language to learn. 

    Maybe it’s because I’m a systematic learner, maybe it’s because I was motivated by Jpop, but what I did find was that the existence of clear grammar rules that I could hook on to, that I could rely on, made it easier for me to get my head round how the language worked. 

    I know Michael Lewis might hate me for saying this, but relying solely on the Lexical Approach with Mandarin would really do my head in if I were learning it as a foreign language. 
    Also, in Japanese, the tones do not determine meaning and so as long as you approximating the pronunciation right, you would be understood (although you might not sound very native)…

    So, yes…in addition to all the reasons given above (many of which I agree with), because it’s so difficult for most people, I don’t think Chinese would ever be a lingua franca…

    But if anything, the one thing the reports do show, albeit not representing the real proportions of Chinese language learners compared to that of other languages, is this : 

    More people are attempting to learn Chinese than before. And that’s great! It’s always good to see people curious about a country in such a different part of the globe and wanting to find out more about it!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Chia…

    Hmm… where to start?  First off thanks for the 拍马屁 hahaha ;-)  If I’ve learned languages well it’s because I simply enjoy it so much and always have language in my head (literally never stop having a conversation of what I’ll say next and how I’ll say it).

    Nice to hear a bit more about your Japanese adventures and interesting to hear that you think it would be an easier language to learn.  I’ve always wondered how it would compare.

    Never heard of 歌后语。。。life-long learner, especially if yer learning chinese!  And, yes, the 我的lady gaga really blew me away.  I died laughing the first time I heard it, and then heard it again and again and again.  It’s become rampant and is exactly like OMG.  Catchy.

    Despite all its challenges, Chinese could’ve become a lingua franca, but won’t because English has already and one universal language is enough for the majority of global citizens.  As someone else pointed out below learning English must be nearly as hard for Chinese as learning Chinese is for us… maybe not, but still fairly comparable.

    I think the lexical approach worked well for me as we’ve discussed but I don’t know that it’s a way many folks would want to learn.  It has everything to do with my fairly gregarious nature and willingness to sit and not understand much for hours in hopes of understanding more the next time.

    Thanks for the convo and looking forward to your pres tomorrow!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Wild… I would’ve thought English had been popular in Switzerland for awhile.  Recent explosion, eh?  Good for us teachers, eh!  

    Yes, Chinese is tough, especially at the beginning.  The learning curve is rough, but again, it all depends on what expect out of it.  Maybe just a bit of exposure is good for young students.  Hard to say as it just really depends on what folks are aiming for, but I would think it would be more beneficial for Europeans to master a second or third European language unless they really wanted to throw themselves 100% into chinese for years and hopefully master it over time.

    Merci 4 the kind words, Vicky!   ;-)

  • Chia Suan Chong

    That’s amazing, Brad, that you know 拍马屁 . For those not in the know, this is just a clear example of the constant use of idioms in Chinese. Literally translated, that means ‘to clap the horses’ fart’, but essentially, it means to curry favour with someone by praising or flattering them. The thing is in English, one can say ‘to praise’ or ‘to flatter’, but in Chinese, the only equivalent is to use an idiom…so one can hardly avoid the use of idioms. 

    BTW, Brad, it’s not 歌后语, but 歇后语 (literally meaning ‘front-back’ phrases). Basically, you say the first line and the listener is expected to know what you mean by guessing the second line (a la cockney rhyming slangs).
    e.g. 门缝里看人 – 看扁人 To see someone through the side of a door – To see them flat (i.e. to look down on them)
    or
    泥菩萨过河 – 自身难保 The Mud Goddess crosses the river – Can’t protect oneself (so don’t try to protect others)
    or
    两个泥菩萨过河 – 谁也救不了谁 Two Mud Goddesses cross the river – No one can help you.

    As you can see with the first example, a lot of it is to do with punning, but from the second examples with the Mud Goddesses, knowledge of Chinese culture and history and even their proverbs is needed to interpret the 歇后语 (pronounced xie hou yu…’xie’ in the fourth tone, Brad)…

    Hope you found this useful?

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Definitely useful and goes to show again… so much to learn.

    I’m not sure if it’s the same, but there are tons of expressions like “萝卜白菜“ and then the other says “各有所爱”。  Either way, yes Chinese is built on 俗语, 成语 and that’s wonderful and also challenging.  To really understand the culture and language it’s a necessary path to take, but without it, I think folks can still learn a lot… and yet, still takes a long, long time.Looking forward to hanging sometime soon and chattin it all over a brew haha in london or paris!cheers, b

  • http://vickyloras.wordpress.com/ Vicky Loras

     Yeah, really good for us teachers! Ha ha!

    It’s great that you are sharing your language learning (and especially in Chinese) with us, to see how you have learned and the challenges of it. I will totally agree with Chia that you are a language genius, Brad!

    Keep writing super stuff,
    Vicky

  • Elizabeth Anne

    So there it is:
    your  “(literally never stop having a conversation of what I’ll say next and how I’ll say it)” above.
    There it is: la bosse des langues (as opposed to “la bosse des Math” so beloved of the French).

    One of my rare incursions into blogging – 6 posts in 2 years (I just counted) plus Krashen’s article about NNS pronunciation which I (stupidly I now realise) asked permission to put there -  actually begins,
    “Wow, I’m thinking in words !”
    so alien is such a phenomenon to me !
    I have never been able to understand when people ask “what language do you think in” being an accidental bilingual person who 40 years on, still speaks French “like a Spanish cow” as we French people say LOL.

    Thans for another great article :-) and What a discussion!

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Hey Elizabeth,

    It has been a great discussion.  Always such a pleasure to dig into futurist thought which forces us to reflect on the past, the present and how it’ll continue to evolve… especially when it’s about languages like this.

    For what it’s worth I had to ask my French partner what “la bosse des maths” was ;-)  So, there ya go… we never stop learning.  I do think that this mental process helps me, but I think it’s equally matched with paying attention to exactly what others are saying, “monitoring” à la Krashen (which I then repeat in my own head).  Also there’s an element of guessing what people might say, or being a bit ahead in the context and knowing and matching the words that will come, imagining what folks will say.  

    It’s been really interesting to read Michael Erard’s book about hyperpolyglots and hear what kind of habits they have as they learn languages and how a normal polyglot matches up with them.

    Bon dimanche ;-)   -b

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Dang, Vicky.  You’re “patting my horse’s butt” too (拍马屁).  I actually like how the French say “flatter” too:  ”jeter des fleurs” like actors/singers on stage who are thrown flowers in order to congratulate their great performances.

    I’m glad the PLN enjoys hearing these language stories cuz they’re the most fun for me to tell.  It is really cool to have learned Chinese to an adequate level and hopefully it’s not the last language I jump into. ;-)

    beeee  zooo,   b

  • Chia Suan Chong

    This is the second time I’m watching this video clip, Brad, and I still can’t get enough of it. You are really good at this!

  • http://twitter.com/Noreen_Lam Noreen L

    Fascinating discussion you’ve started Brad! :)  Wow, so many multilingual folk out there in the world is inspiring me to resurrect my French a bit more, and tweak my Spanish towards (near) perfection! :)  And of course I’d love to start a new language, but so many choices, and where to start??  The question is to learn a “useful”/practical one for communication in the majority of the world, or just one that seems interesting/different/similar/cool to tell your friends about??   The dilemmas of language lovers! :)

    It’s interesting to think about how China’s role in the world has sparked this increase in Chinese language learners….heard on the news the other day that now there’s a huge spurt in students tackling the language in Spain.  Making me consider it as well…..As a Cantonese speaker who learned bits of Mandarin growing up, it should seem easy at first glance, shouldn’t it?  However, growing up in Canada, English became like mother tongue and I actually found that French was easier to pick up than Mandarin, which I did simultaneously, but in differing environments. Perhaps my “Westernized” brain had similar difficulties to studying Mandarin as a non-Cantonese speaker?  I have no idea, except that perhaps my slight advantage is recognition of characters, but the tones still throw me off, despite Mandarin only having 4 compared to whatever countless ones that exist in Cantonese.  Oh and let’s not start with simplified vs traditional characters….how does one “unlearn” brush strokes for something in order to be told that it’s the same as what one already knows??

    Hope to meet you linguistic geniuses out there, someday, and continue this fascinating talk….

    Noreen

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Haha… yep, i thank farm animals ;-)

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    I’d love to start learning Arabic.  It would put me in touch with an amazing wealth of culture and a population that I have very little interaction with.  Plus, a semitic language would take me into another way of looking at the world.  

    Funny that you found French easier than Mandarin.  Of course that would be the case for most Western speakers but you have Cantonese up there somewhere.  Hmm…

    As I said over twitter, if you ever make it this way, please do look me up!  Cheers, Brad

  • http://blog.edulang.com Brad Patterson

    Oops… just went to check it out and realized it isn’t for another week or so.  On the calendar!  Thanks, Stephen.

  • http://www.edulang.com/blog/is-public-school-enough-to-master-a-language/ Is public school enough to master a language? | A journée in language.

    [...] but also for potential intercultural interactions and enhanced access to the http://WWW. In the presentation I mentioned a week ago, I was surprised to hear Stephen Krashen say that our job as teachers was to [...]

  • http://twitter.com/leoselivan Lexical Leo

    Totally agree with Tyson’s comment
    L

  • http://backseatlinguist.com/blog/?p=230 The Most Studied, Fastest Growing, and “Best Represented” Languages in U.S. Colleges

    [...] recent post by Brad Peterson on the supposed popularity of Chinese language study around the world sent me digging for some data [...]

  • Zhiliu2004

    This incorrect to way of using the word Chinese because there is no such thing as speaking Chinese. That is being ambiguous and I don’t know what are you referring to. Just like if someone come to earth and ask do you speak earth language and how are you suppose to answer this question. Everything spoken on earth is earth language. So the correct way of asking is “will everyone speak Mandarin/Cantonese/ and so on…

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Thanks for stopping by Zhi Liu.
    我同意  ;-)  但下面的60个人就明白了什么意思chinese,所以应该没有那么摸棱对外国人来说。

  • ALiCe__M

    Thank you for this post, Brad, but frankly,I wonder why the media and bloggers and tweetos and Facebookians and everyone ask these same questions again and again : which language will take over, which one will be the lingua franca, which one will be number one, which one is the easiest. But who cares, really. I certainly don’t ! To me NO language is easy, if you want to speak it very well. I think it’s wonderful that people start learning Chinese, and find it difficult. Of course it’s difficult, but so is English. If you want to learn all the phrases, idioms, proverbs, images that flourish in the English language… it won’t happen overnight. So YAY to languages ! (*all* of them).

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    I’m with you, Alice: “Yay to languages”, and I can understand why folks get “excited” about this kind of topic because hidden behind it is an even more invigorating one— linguistic dominance often means a dominance of power too, and a swaying in languages of lingua franca probably means a change in international super-powers.

    Time shall tell ;-)

  • CL TAN

    The thing is, European languages like English are hard for Asians to master because most of them have rather irregular grammar. An example of this in English is the past and perfect tense, i.e. swim, swam, swum; bring, brought, brought etc. The Asian languages I know best – Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Malay – don’t have all this. I have once counted almost 200 irregular verbs in English, Besides – this could be specific to English itself – there’s the dreaded ‘crazy’ orthography. Why does ‘put’ not rhyme with ‘but’, or ‘one’ with ‘lone’?

    In some Asian countries where English has been well established by the colonial era, there appears to be a strained, “love-hate” relationship between English and the local lingos, where the upper classes are stereotyped to have ditched their mother tongues for the material gains that come English’s high ‘commercial value’. Some lower-classed people also try to embrace English but end up mingling it with their own languages, perhaps destroying one of the valuable things their ancestors passed down for their cultural wellbeing.

    What was said on the HSBC sign must be taken with a grain of salt. That’s probably almost the whole population of schoolchildren there. 53 million inhabitants of England times five equals 235 million, against the total population of 1.3 billion … almost 20 percent. Given this and the current state of Chinese politics and education, I say “c’est ridicule!”

    As we enter the 21st century’s teenage years I see the world will have to pay a very heavy price if it chooses to press ahead to get 7 billion people to embrace English. It may be the most learned language in the world but it’s definitely NOT the most SUCCESSFULLY learned, and things will probably go awry as the tendency of some students esp in developing countries to mix the acquired language with their own, or ditching their own altogether, will drive the rest of their society to tread this so-called global language with caution to say the least.

    The English-centric world will unravel as soon as enough citizens of the world perceive it as a threat to their linguistic and cultural identity.

  • http://blog.edulang.com/ Brad Patterson

    Thank you for this well thought-out comment, CL.

    Yes, English and European grammars are tough… but they’re actually a far cry from the complexity of tribal languages which are much more resilient to simplification (take a peek at Guy Deustcher’s work.. i think you’ll love it). In the end, it’s for the same reason that Asian languages are so hard for Occidentals due to tones and non-roman alphabets… and yet that’s the magic of it all! ;-)

    There have been efforts to “create” a simple language that all could learn— ie esperanto. Otherwise, I’m not as tacken aback by the pidgins that English + other languages might create. Whereas before there was a heavy emphasis on speaking one of the well-known native Englishes of the US, Britain, Australia etc, I think today the emphasis is much more on understanding a more global and diverse English.

    I think the HSBC sign is a mild exaggeration, but in the grand scheme it’s far from “ridicule”— the point being that there are more English language learners in China than native English speakers in England is important because I would doubt that even 1% of the much smaller population of England is currently studying Chinese or another Asian language.

    On some level, I wish you were right about citizens of the world perceiving a “threat” from English IF the result is that they would cherish their linguistic and cultural identity… however, I think most would probably see it as an opportunity and far from a threat. That being said, I wholeheartedly agree with you that linguistic and cultural diversity is something we should encourage, but maybe by learning a universal language, we are thus more aware of the value of our own culture… or maybe not… but I’d say so… at least that’s the way it is for me as a world-traveller and language learner.

    Thanks for the dialogue!
    -brad

  • George Hepner

    Chinese is wicked hard, but it could become the next lingua franca mundi. Languages follow money.

  • Rocco

    I feel that this article has missed the mark somewhat. I would argue that English became the lingua franca primarily because of the UK initially but later the US due to their dominance and importance in the world economy. There is a high possibility I feel that China will take over America’s mantle. Therefore, to give oneself the best career opportunities, Mandarin would be more important than English. For example, a lot of business between South Korea and China is done in Mandarin now, not just in English. This will really be put to the test when China is the world’s leading economy and people from other countries have competitive job markets.

  • Mike

    English will become the worlds language or there will be no world language.

    English is already widely spoken and in the primary language of the internet and science. However as machines advance the advantages of knowing more than one language become irrelevant . Soon machines will be able to perfectly translate written text and spoken language. So in the next 20-30 years everyone will adopt English or if they haven’t by then there will be no point because machines will take care of the language barrier.