I have a standing offer with relatives and buddies with children: I will pay for Mandarin Chinese lessons.
Most schools in the US don’t have any easy way to elect to teach children Mandarin, and so you need to have a tutor, or send the kids to a after-hours school, or otherwise give them lessons utilizing your own resources. Almost nobody seems to think this is needed, so they don’t. And the kids don’t learn.
Chinese is kind of freaky if all you’ve learned is English and another latin-based language, poorly. It’s not overly difficult if you spend some time learning it and have a good teacher. But people are, I guess, kind of turned off by the whole idea, and so they avoid it or dismiss it, like it was not really needed or everyone will eventually make it easier for them to know it later.
This parallels, in fact, how computers were in the early 1980s. Some people jumped in. Kids especially jumped in. Others dismissed them, made fun of them, did a little head-flip and made some lame joke that translated to “I am incapable of seeing worth in them”. And then, later, when those kids who drilled their brains on computers as teenagers could understand and improve on technology, well, those kids met success. Maybe the success was financial or maybe it was happiness or maybe it was even the contentment of actually knowing how the hell the world worked around them. But success did come. The people who could joke and head-flip and used whatever variant term for “you are all fucking nerds and I do not identify with your alien ways”, are now utterly dependent on them. Utterly.
Pick up any item in a store, and chances are, almost inevitably, the word “China” will stare back at you. More and more, people I interact with are going to China as part of their job, to discuss the manufacturing that will happen or to finish and approve designs. These are successful, engaged people who are going places (and have been places, actually). They generally do not speak Chinese that I know of, beyond what a traveller needs to get around.
It is my strongest belief that knowing Chinese enough to conduct a conversation about a process, or manufacturing, or getting information sent properly, will be a vital and worthy asset in the future, just like computer knowledge was. While a lot of people will have derived, two-dozen-word vocabularies that will let them stumble by, knowing the Chinese language enough to conduct conversations will mean both an improved product for companies you work with (any company, as we’re seeing) and improvement for yourself, as you become the point person for interacting with the lifeblood of the product manufacturing.
Meanwhile, the new generation of people will be here to head-flip and make some lame joke about learning Chinese and dismiss it and say that only individuals with severe problems would do so. And meanwhile the kids who drill in on Chinese will succeed. They’ll not only see how that language works but gain perspective on language in general (instead of the parts-switching that focusing on latin-based languages does). They’ll think of the world not as their corner and then a lot of other weird places out there, but as one big place. And they’ll likely be asked to travel to those places. And they will succeed and benefit, financially or personally.
Time will bear me out, but I am still going to pay for those lessons in the meantime.
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