SPECIAL NOTE: Mandarin Chinese? I did a lot of research for my new book THIS IS CHINA (6th book)…And I like to share a thing or two with you, about the official language used and adopted in mainland communist China. When Chairman Mao Zedong took over China in 1949 and created a communist nation…one of the major changes was adoption of a language called PUTONGHUA. He knew China had too many local dialects and one way to unite a nation of millions of people was to introduce a language that might transcend all different dialects across the vast land…”Putong” means “ordinary”, and “hua” means “language”. So instead of Mandarin, the old ancient language with difficult and complex characters (written), they came up with “simplied” Chinese, called Putonghua, rightly so. So where can you find Mandarin Chinese today? Go to Taiwan or Hong Kong…they continue to use the old traditional Chinese. In mainland communist China, we use Putonghua today…Interestingly, China’s official language today is actually “Han Yue”…once the dominant dialect spoken in China, especially in Beijing area. Reportedly Han Yue was spoken by between 70-80 % of the people in China, and so the government adopted it as the official language of China, today called Potunghua….Here is a sad story for you. One day a student told me he was getting a little nervous, because “today I have to deliver a speech to all the incoming freshmen and their parents.” Why nervous, I asked. “Steve, you might know this…I came from a poor part of China and in my high school, some of my teachers did not use Potunghua to teach us. They used the local dialect, Steve. And so I am not very good with Potunghua…and I am supposed to deliver a speech using Potunghua. Now you understand why I am a little nervous.” …What a revelation to me. Other students had told me the same thing. In many places, some teachers might use the local dialect to teach the students, and not use the national language (Potunghua) to teach them. What a surprise to me….I was born in Malaysia. When the national Malay government took over Malaysia, they introduced a new National Language, and that is Bahasa Melayu (Malay). And soon everything was taught in Malay. I was lucky to have English schools when I was a teenager. Now in Malaysia, you can attend a Chinese, Indian or a Malay school. And you can take English as one subject. Everything else is conducted in Malay. The same in China, after 1949, Potunghua was the national language. In fact many ethnic groups in China are forced to study the new language. In many parts of China today, if you cannot read or write in Putonghua, you might not enter government civil services. You have to know the national language–Potunghua! Now you know…the biggest problem facing all non-Chinese who are trying to learn the language: Potunghua is a “tonal” language, that means every word has a fixed tone. Therefore, from small, children have to memorize each word, with the correct pronunciation. Imagine a foreigner trying to remember and master 2 to 2 thousand words in order to read a Chinese newspapers…you are required to know at least 3000 to 4000 basic characters (or words) before you can engage in a decent conversation or read a simple newspapers. In America, it is a known fact that most newspapers are written for people with less than a high school education…at least 7th grade education! Hm! Yes, if you have a 7th or 8th grade education in American, you should be able to read the daily newspapers! Of course I am not talking about the Wall Street Journal…or The Economist (it is a newspapers!)…Hm! Now you know..go to live in China for a year…you have a chance to speak some Potunghua with other Chinese! Good Luck! Steve November 10, 2017
Chinese is a ‘super-hard language,’ but also one of the most important
By Curtis Stone (People’s Daily Online) 10:12, November 07, 2017
What are the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn? According to the U.S. State Department, Arabic, Chinese (Cantonese and Mandarin), Japanese, and Korean are “super-hard languages,” which means Chinese is exceptionally difficult for native English speakers to learn.
The US State Department categorizes foreign languages according to the time required for a native English speaker to learn them. For example, Chinese is classified as a Category IV language, or a “super-hard language,” because it takes about 88 weeks (or about 1.7 years) to achieve general proficiency. Chinese is also a “priority language,” which means it is of critical importance to US foreign policy and difficult to find people who can speak it.
Why are they so difficult to learn?
Learning a super-hard language is hard, even with resources and support. According to an inspection report of State’s Foreign Service Institute, the overall success rate for beginner students in the super-hard category was 68% for FY 2011 and 63% for FY 2012. More than one-third of the students did not succeed.
What makes these languages so hard to learn? Both Japanese and Chinese have thousands of characters to memorize, Arabic has less vowels than English and almost no words similar to European languages, and the Korean alphabet, known as Hangul or Hangeul, is hailed as one of the most logical writing systems in the world and its sentence structure and grammar are challenging.
For example, Korean uses a subject-object-verb sentence structure to express things, while English uses a subject-verb-object sentence structure. So, in Korean you should say “I lunch eat” rather than “I eat lunch.”
Learning a language has a lot of benefits
Learning a new language is time-consuming and laborious, but its benefits go far beyond merely facilitating international travel and ordering food in foreign restaurants. Studies show that learning a new language can improve cognitive functions, help stave off dementia, boost memory, and improve concentration and attention.
In addition, it can also change the way we look at the world. Researchers have found that language can shape the way we think, how we see ourselves, and even the way we perceive colors. In Chinese, for example, asking someone if he or she has eaten expresses concern for their well-being. It is a polite way of asking how they are doing.
Lastly, language helps bring us together. Who could forget the moment when US President Donald Trump’s granddaughter Arabella showed off her Mandarin-speaking skills in honor of President Xi Jinping and Madame Peng Liyuan’s official visit to the United States in April 2017?
There are currently 400,000 Americans learning Mandarin Chinese, according to the US-China Strong Foundation, and one million American students could be studying Mandarin Chinese by 2020. “If our countries are going to do more together around the world, then speaking each other’s language, truly understanding each other, is a good place to start,” former US President Barack Obama said in a joint press conference in September 2015 with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mandarin Chinese might be a “super-hard language” to learn, but learning Chinese is the best way to understand China.