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Wednesday,August 21,2019
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Americans say “NI HAO MA”-For Americans, globalization equals learning Chinese.-

 

   
 ▽Chinese frenzy: More American students opt for Chinese as their second language in the U.S.
 
 
Although many see Americans as being ethnocentric, it has become clear that Americans are interested in communicating with the rest of the world, especially the Chinese. “Since China’s economic growth has been so rapid, it's beneficial for Americans to learn Chinese and more importantly, it allows them to do business there.” says Professor John Hampton of the International Language Center at New York University.

Nearly 2,400 schools in the U.S. are currently teaching the Chinese language in their classrooms, which is a huge amount compared to less 500 schools teaching Chinese ten years ago.  In the past, Spanish, French, and German were the main foreign languages American children learned at school. Many online courses are also offered for adults as lifelong education programs in local communities.

“The class features sound files of Chinese people speaking so that we can hear how the language sounds,” says Jennifer Moore, a housewife who is learning Chinese at a local community college twice a week. “It’s hard to memorize all the complicated characters but once you understand the basics of how it was created, you can finally get a grip on the language”, she added.

Even though English is at the foundation of global communication, Americans are beginning to understand that China will soon be an economic superpower and the ability to speak Chinese will bring them a golden opportunity to make a fortune.

“It’s the language of the future for commercial and industrial transactions, as well as for foreign trade. In 10 years, China will be a world power,” says Professor Hampton. “Since China is a huge market that is opening up for Americans to make money, there is a real economic reason to learn Chinese.

 

   
 
   
 

Michael Palmer, a teacher in Washington State wants to promote the Chinese language so students can partner with the rest of the world, collaborate with them, as well as negotiate and work through conflicts. He says, “We need to know about other cultures and we need to have language experience. Whether it is to make money in China by being able to communicate with businessmen, or to learn Chinese as a student to be able to travel later in life, Chinese has obviously become an important option for Americans.” In the coming years, there might be just as many Americans learning the Chinese language as there are Chinese people learning English.

There are also cultural reasons to learn Chinese. Americans are starting to see the world around them, and since China is such a massive place with rich history and cultural sources, its language is an obvious choice.

Meiling Liu, a teacher of the West Linn & Wilsonville High School, provides her students with opportunities that they learn Chinese culture and customs. “I took students to the field trips that they had chances to taste Chinese food, Hong Kong food, to use chopsticks and to learn Chinese table manner,” adding that “I have been inviting them to form some interesting activities or speeches introducing Chinese noodle, tea ceremony (Cha Dao), acupuncture, comparing different culture, festivals between China and America.”

 

   
 
   
 

 <Difficulties while learning Chinese>

Despite the incentives learning Chinese, however, the Chinese language is still tough language for westerners. For starters, thousands of characters must be memorized when learning Chinese. There is no alphabet, and even Chinese people don’t know the total number of characters. In general Chinese people believe there are around 60,000 characters in the language.

Also, their tonal system poses problems. The meaning of English words does not change with its tones, one word has one sound. However, the same is not applied to Chinese which has four and a half tones. A single word can have many meanings depending on which tone is used. The word 'xiang', for example has 6 different meanings; to miss, to think, little, to want, an elephant, to be like. Here’s another one, ‘ma’ can be pronounced with four different tones and can mean mother, horse, hemp, or be a reproach. How tones are used also varies extensively from province to province. “The tonal systems can make learners very confused.” says Ms. Liu.

Claire, a student at Oxford University said, “I attempted to learn Mandarin Chinese, but after the short four month course was over I could only remember how to say 'thank you' and 'I am Japanese’. It was just too hard for me to pronounce the words correctly, as the tonal variations of the languages were hard to get right. That’s why I decided to stop studying Chinese and switch to the Japanese language.”

Although the use of various tones is difficult for adults, it has a strange appeal to children and young students. They find the different characters fun and grasp the different tones well; it’s like singing for them. Chinese grammar isn't very complicated compared to that of European languages, because there are no verb tenses, no relative clauses, and no singular or plural forms.

China’s economy is growing so quickly and becoming so influential in the world market that people can’t afford to ignore it. Many Americans are now tapping Chinese, with dramatically increase of the number of school providing Chinese language classes. Whatever the reason, Americans are trying to master Chinese, as we try to learn English. But, it’s certain that learning other languages is surely hard for starters.

Lee Jong-seok  bigbell414@dongguk.edu

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