Knowing Chinese makes you sexy, rich and happy :)

Do people learn a language because of its economic value?

August 6, 2011 – 1:24 pm

In a comment to my last article, my reader Justrecently asked a question:

“Have you ever met someone who learned Chinese successfully simply because a boss told him or her so? I haven’t.”

While my answer is not exactly a yes, it’s close.

While at school I learned English and Latin as foreign languages. English proved to be useful, Latin didn’t. After graduating from school, life becomes more serious. Comparing myself to others I realized, that a lot of people here speak at least two more or less useful foreign languages. Looking at my CV with English being the only foreign language was a bit depressing.


So I decided I have to learn another language. At that time I wasn’t interested in China. I wasn’t to interested in any other country, so I made my decision purely on an economical basis. I needed a second foreign language to make my CV competitive. I wanted to learn something that had a good ratio of time invested vs. expected progress and it should be a language with a good amount of native speakers. Spanish seemed perfect. It’s close to English, has easy grammar and it is the third widely spoken language after Chinese and English.

It was a pathetic failure. After one year I could barely ask someone for their name. So I gave up, but the issue with the CV was still unsolved. At that point I had thought about Chinese for a few months. Language with highest number of native speakers, it doesn’t have word flexions, one of my main concerns with spanish, and Chinese women don’t look that bad after all. I decided to give it a one semester chance. It was supposed to be among the hardest languages out there and I needed something for my CV in the not to distant future. After one semester of lazy learning, I could ask a person in Chinese, what is their name, if they are hungry, how old they are and many other things. I even could understand their reply. Chinese is so much better than Spanish.

My love for the Chinese language developed afterwards. Initially my decision was mostly driven by economic considerations. There are people out there, who start learning a language because of economic concerns.

Furthermore, while attending classes of Chinese, I did meet a few people, who learned Chinese because their boss told them to do so. Don’t know if each of them made / will make it until the fluent stage, but they put in some efforts. Maybe they liked the language as well after they started learning.

To my readers:
When you started learning Chinese (or some other language), how important was the economic aspect?

  1. 5 Responses to “Do people learn a language because of its economic value?”

  2. My first foreign language was English and I started learning it at 3rd grade because I had to. Then my third foreign language was German and I started that on 5th grade because most of my classmates did so and it sounded interesting. (I studied it for 5 years and then gave up. I have forgotten everything!) Then on 7th grade I started Swedish again because I had to and studied it all the way to university. Now I haven’t used the language for years and have forgotten it. In University I aslo tried Latin but it wasn’t for me. It’s nothing but grammar!

    Then finally I started learning Chinese in the university. I’ve been a fan of China since childhood and economic aspect had zero value for me. I started the language just because I was so interested in China and Chinese. Only later on I have thought to make it usefull in my career aswell.

    By Sara on Aug 6, 2011

  3. The economic value was also very low, the urge of learning Chinese mainly arised out of the frustration of not being able to communicate when visiting China. Chinese is just too diffrent from english, so if you don´t learn it, you don´t understand anything (unlike, for instance, spanish, where I can easily get to know what I am ordering by just looking at the menu, knowing french and latin).

    Now, of course, it also proofed to be quite useful economically – but I´m not sure how this will develop in the future. In order to really take advantage out of it in baning or finance, I would have to put much more effort into it so that I am able to not only speak the language, but also read complicated contracts in Chinese.

    By Aremonus on Aug 6, 2011

  4. Sara,

    I think Latin is not that difficult, but the lack of real world use and highly formalized learning with emphasis on grammar rules don’t helpt its cause.

    How comes you were a fan of China since childhood? When I was a kid, I though of China as a really backward place.


    for business Chinese, consider “Business Chinese, An Advanced Reader” by Songren Cui. It is really advanced, I bought it a year ago and never used it so far, because it’s to advanced for me. But it looks very organized and includes invoices, business proposals, shipping documents and more all in Chinese with explainations in CHinese and English. My Chinese friend from Shanghai once took a look and said, that she could learn something out of it in terms of business vocab and how contracts are composed.

    I’d say you should have a firm grasp of HSK 5 as a minimum before looking at this book, however once at this stage, this book might be awesome. I’ve planned to work through it in 2013.

    By Hendrik on Aug 8, 2011

  5. @Junjie:
    Thanks for the suggestion, but I think I´m also far under that level. Perhaps I´ll spend another term in China to improve my Chinese, if I find time – because that still seems to be the method that works most efficiently for me.

    However, when I was studying here, I got a private tutor who taught me some economic expressions, so that I can now have basic discussions on our global economic situation.

    By Aremonus on Aug 10, 2011

  6. Then check this book:
    ISBN 0-88727-312-2
    I’m using it myself at the moment.

    By Hendrik on Aug 10, 2011

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