Earlier this fall, I endured a wave of resentment, terror and bad vibes coming from my 12-year old when he learned I had unilaterally changed his 7th grade foreign language selection from Spanish to Chinese. The protests and negativity were unrelenting, for a time.
“We live in Texas, everyone takes Spanish, my brother took Spanish….and besides, it’s easy. Only the Chinese kids take Chinese….” Those were the most rational of his arguments.
I made the decision to push Chinese because I think it is a “must” for the way the world will go over the next few generations. China is a huge economic, political, and military force once again (history recap: it was in the past, as well) and is gaining momentum.
When you speak someone’s language – and actually comprehend it – you have a better understanding of how he or she thinks. This especially true with Chinese. Normal conversation is rich with idioms that contain cultural, historical and philosophical references and the writing system is based on characters linked to ideas rather than phonetics. Having a common language is a better way to connect with a backdrop of context. It provides a window of clarity.
Without that, meanings can get convoluted, mistaken, or warped. As an example, check out this link and ensuing reaction to a recent video of Cody Abbey delivering a speech in very very good Mandarin, during the degree ceremony at an international program of Peking (Beijing) University. If you understand the language and listen to the whole speech, you know the message is “harmony despite differences”….based on a Confucian idiom. Cody aligns with his audiences by creating a shared cultural reference (Chinese Great Wall, Trump building a wall), relates by talking about some of his awkward learning experiences in China, and communicates his message. If you don’t understand the language and leave out the context, the meaning changes. A total of 29 seconds of the 12+ minute speech referenced Donald Trump and “the wall”….yet an English language news story reported that Abbey gave a speech condemning Trump and the country. This was not at all the case or intent.
So…my point is that China will be – and is already – a huge influencer in business, politics, security, environment, technology – basically in all aspects of life from now through the foreseeable future. Why not have the advantage of more insight through the lens of Chinese language…to make your own assessment of what is going on, what is going to happen, and to decide how you want to respond. Big challenge, BIGGER REWARD. That’s what I am telling my son.