Knowing Chinese makes you sexy, rich and happy :)

Economist: Learning Mandarin is useless

December 7, 2007 – 11:02 pm

The Economist posted an article dubbed False Eastern promise about the advantages and disadvantages of learning Chinese. Most of their arguments are against Chinese. I think they are pretty wrong and I’ll show why. Dear Economist, have a look.

things you need to learn chinese

In the beginning of the article Economist presents some facts. They write: 30m foreigners are studying Mandarin today, and Chinese authorities expect the number to rise to 100m by 2010. This is correct.

The Economist predicts, that Chinas economy will overtake the US economy in the coming decades. Here they are right, however they then ask if Westerners will increase their career chances by learning Mandarin. Even before showing one single argument they answer this question with a No.

The next point in the article is about the difficulties of learning Chinese. They say that a person needs to invest about 4 times more time into studying Chinese compared to studying Italian, French or Spanish. While this is probably true, people who start Chinese are really interested in learning and understanding this language. Then time is not an real issue, if You manage it correctly. You can become fluent in almost 2 years. Add in 2 more years to learn characters and You are ready to go. While You are doing a Bachelor in say Economy or Computer Science at universit, You can study Chinese in Your spare time.

The article goes on, that a 3 year student of Chinese often cannot pass the HSK level6. I already stated You need 4 years. 2 years of focus on spoken Mandarin. 2 more years to get the characters down.

Then they claim You could become a lawyer in the same time. Let me get this one straight. No one should learn any language as a major. Study something else and add in a language study in Your free time.

Economist: One reason is that many Chinese already speak reasonable English.

The Economist claims, that many Chinese can already speak Chinese. Such an arguments makes them actually look stupid. Maybe there are some English speakers in Shanghai and Hongkong. But how about Chengdu, Chongqing, Nanjing, … ? Maybe one percent of these city’s population can actually speak English. Yes, most people in China nowadays learn English, but the English classes are rarely worth mentioning, because the teachers can’t speak English themselves.

Even less is the number of Chinese people who can speak English, have knowledge about the Western culture and already visited a Western country. If You need such a person have fun searching.

The Economist goes on, that only English speaking students are allowed to study at a Chinese university. I think there are alternatives. For example You donate some money to the right person. Or You know the right persons. Or You don’t attend a top notch university. You are free to study without English. When I was at Chengdu university there were enough people whose English was similar to my Chinese level. And I didn’t speak much Chinese at that time.

Finally they take on the money issue. Westerners earn less than at home. While this is true, they spend less and can eat better food. It’s just a question of preferences.

If the initial claim of the article in the Economist holds true and China is really going this superpower then the money issue will vanish by itself, because with economic growth come increasing wages and quality of living.

Finally I have to add, that while Westerners can communicate in English with the Chinese sooner or later, when it comes to big deals in China then You have to speak Chinese. These deals are not made in an office. The biggest deals are still closed in an expensive restaurant with lots of alcohol and there You absolutely do want to speak Chinese.

Dear Economist, You underestimate the value of learning Chinese dramatically. Maybe You rethink it.

update, 2008 May 25. :

Due to recent events my view on learning the Chinese language changed slightly. The arguments above are still valid, however a new reason came up that possibly  lowers the value of learning Chinese. The visa policy changed and therefore someone might not enter China as easily as before. This has effects on the value of learning Chinese. This might be a short term change, but might be a long term change. I’ll keep You posted.

Related Articles:

  1. 6 Responses to “Economist: Learning Mandarin is useless”

  2. Hello,

    Hope you don’t mind I post here. A nice song by Richie Ren that I would like to present to you on ECpod (can learn some mandarin from this song too): Richie Ren’s Song Animation Video is a free website to learn English and Chinese (Mandarin, Cantonese and etc) using videos. These videos are produced by our members and you are welcome to contribute as well. You can make friends too within our community and find online students to teach.

    Sorry if you find the site slow now – it will be resolved in 2 weeks time after we sort out our overseas bandwidth issues. Thanks.

    Rgds, Susan

    By Susan on Feb 2, 2008

  3. When in Rome, why not let the Romans teach you?

    In Huangshan (黄山) southern Anhui province in Eastern China, Fu Shou-Bing logs on to the computer in the public library near his village. Since discovering (, the retired High School Chemistry teacher has been logging on almost every day to the English-Chinese teaching website. Sometimes he cycles the 25 miles home, cooks himself a simple lunch of rice and stir-fried vegetables with salted fish, often returning once again to the library and his new hobby in the evening. boasts an educational website that teaches members conversational English or Chinese (no “this is an apple” stuff here) via video clips contributed by other members. After a vetting and often transcribing process by language tutors commissioned by the site, the clips are available free of charge in YouTube fashion. The twist? Members
    film each other in everyday activities, hoping other members will learn not just their native tongue, but also cultural innuendos lost in textbooks and more conventional means of language learning.

    “One member filmed himself cooking in his kitchen. We got a few emails asking what condiments he used,” says a bemused Warwick Hau, one of the site’s more public faces. One emailer even wanted to know if she could achieve the same Chinese stir-fry using ingredients from her regular CR Vanguard (华润超级) supermarket. “We often forget our every day activities may not be as mundane to people on the other side of the world,” Hau adds. Another such clip is “loaches” – a Chinese mother of 3 filmed her children and their friends playing with a bucket of loaches – slippery eel-like fish the children were picking up and gently squeezing between their fingers.

    Lately the members have also begun to make cross-border friends and contacts. The ECpal function works much the same way sites like and work – members can invite each other to view their clips and make friends. And it has its fair share of juvenile humor as well. “Farting Competition” features two teenagers and graphic sound effects. Within several days, the clip was one of the most popular videos that week, likely due to mass-forwarding by the participants’ schoolmates.

    For other members keen to learn more than the fact juvenile humor is similar everywhere, there are many home videos featuring unlikely little nuggets of wisdom. “The last thing I learned from the site is why you never find green caps for sale in China”, says Adam Schiedler one of the English language contributors to the site. Green caps signify cuckolded husbands, particularly shameful in China as they are a huge loss of face. Adam vows not to buy any green headgear for his newfound friends.

    The subject matter of the videos often speaks volumes about its contributors. Members choose their own content and film the clip wherever they please, some of their efforts drawing attention to rural surroundings and the quaint insides of little homes otherwise not seen unless you backpack your way thru the tiny dirt roads and villages along the Chinese countryside.

    Idyllic countrysides and cooking lessons aside however, ECpod marries the latest video sharing technology with the old school way of teaching a language – from the native speakers on the street. It’s a modern, more convenient alternative to spending 6 months in China. And why not let the Chinese teach you?

    By Susan on Feb 25, 2008

  4. We’ve started a website to help foreigners learn Mandarin at

    I personally have found Mandarin to be much easier than French or certainly German, but the writing system is quite difficult.

    By Alfred Jensen on Jul 7, 2008

  5. If I may qoute you:
    “The Economist goes on, that only English speaking students are allowed to study at a Chinese university. I think there are alternatives. For example You donate some money to the right person. Or You know the right persons. Or You don’t attend a top notch university.”

    What does this tell us? If you have money, you can achieve anything in China! This is not a positive argument, this states that you can BUY your way into university!

    By Andi on Mar 10, 2009

  6. Hi.. nice post. Learning online is different experience and you will get whatever you want about language on internet. The best way is to learn chinese language online.

    By Shun on Jul 16, 2009

  1. 1 Trackback(s)

  2. Jun 7, 2008: chongqing time website clip

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.