I have written about Chinese culture before and one of the main proponents of Chinese culture is the language. Based on pictures and drawings, many characters are claimed to be based on their likeness to real objects – such as 人, rén, is a biped walking and represents the term ‘person’, whilst this character, 牛, niú, represents ‘cow/ox’. A handful do hold a closeness to their real life objects but how anyone can see the real life reflection from these characters is hard to see 幼稚. But it is this system of a pictograph language that has endured for thousands of years and continues to flourish now. Soon it will be the most spoken language in the world, streams ahead of English and it is this dominance that many long term visitor’s eye as the reason to learn it, myself included. Mandarin is already one of the most popular languages on the internet, and although many of the users remain domestically inside China, this is set to explode globally once China overtakes America as the world’s biggest economy.
Just getting by
Not everyone wishes to learn Mandarin though when they come to live, work or travel. If your goal is to earn money, travel a little and enjoy the novelty of it all then it is fairly easy to get by without learning anything at all. A few helpful phrases make all the difference and once you have mastered how to stretch out your index finger, say “I want this” or show a taxi driver an address on your phone, it really can be avoided. Not that this is a bad thing, but I definitely feel that it a large part of the culture that a person could miss out on.
At the moment I think China holds the biggest demand for English teachers in the world. This is great news for me and others at York School. It is also great for job development and the possibility of gaining employment up and down the country when your contracts run out. But the other side is that no one really speaks English that well. The amount of parents at York School that can speak English must total less than 2 percent. This makes it an incredibly difficult environment for not just the students to learn at home (the parents don’t know if their children are saying things correctly sometimes because they don’t know themselves) but for everyone. The ones that do succeed in learning English to a higher standard deserve greater credit just because of this reason alone.
And likewise, this has an effect on foreigner’s abilities to communicate effectively with the locals. If they can’t speak English and you can’t speak Chinese it can be lead conversations to peter out or end abruptly in an awkward mutually accepted misunderstanding. If you would like to open up a whole world of people to talk to in this country then it is imperative that you learn a little of their language. Once you start it can be strangely addictive and when you finally understand what your local shopkeeper is haranguing you about, things seem to be all that much better.
For a lot of the teachers when they were living and studying at home the thought of learning Mandarin had probably never entered their ‘five year plans’. In fact, not a lot of Asian history or culture is taught back home, but as the world’s richest economy’s circle around the East and the world becomes smaller yet again, the idea of learning Mandarin becomes even more appealing. As York School grows and more teachers join I think a great deal of them plan on learning a thing or two while they are here and in my opinion makes for a much more enjoyable experience.