Why learn Chinese? If you’re thinking about taking up a new language and wondering why Chinese could be the perfect option, keep reading!
Learning Chinese may well turn out to be a life-changing decision. It can lead you to fantastic places, experiences and opportunities you never would have imagined.
I could go on about this topic for hours. But since your hours could be better spent, you know,… actually learning Chinese, here are 5 motivators to give you a quick picture of the benefits it can bring.
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Anyway, back to the task at hand… why learn Chinese?
1. You’ll Learn The Most Spoken Language In The World
Nearly one in six people in the entire world speak Chinese. (That’s if we include Mandarin, Cantonese, and other spoken varieties of Chinese.)
It’s a huge number—around 1.2 billion speakers in all, including native and second-language speakers. Around 1 billion of those are Mandarin speakers – the most common Chinese language.
This makes Chinese the most spoken language in the world, ahead of even English (though English is still the most widely learned as a second language).
Even if we consider Mandarin, Cantonese and other Chinese languages separately, Mandarin is still the second most spoken language in the world.
There’s no denying that for sheer volume alone, Chinese is a very useful language to learn!
Mandarin is an official language in mainland China, Taiwan and Singapore. Cantonese is the official language of Hong Kong and Macau and is also spoken in many of the southern mainland Chinese provinces.
Aside from this, there are large communities of both Cantonese and Mandarin speakers in many major cities (and even smaller towns) throughout the world.
No matter where you are, you won’t have far to look to find other Chinese speakers to talk to (especially with italki and other exchange platforms at your fingertips).
2. You’ll Connect More Deeply With Chinese Culture
Whether Chinese culture is a totally new world to you, or you already have some familiarity with the culture through friends or family, learning Chinese will deepen and expand those connections.
Language and culture are inextricably linked. And learning the language will help you experience and relate to the rich and varied sphere of traditional (and modern) Chinese culture.
You’ll be able to better appreciate many aspects of Chinese culture such as:
- Traditional celebrations like Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival
- And of course… Chinese food!
There’s also a staggering array of Chinese-language movies, music and shows out there – from gripping historical dramas to over-the-top dating shows, there’s something for every taste.
Learning Chinese opens the door to a whole new world of choices. It also means you’ll pick up so much more of the nuance and cultural references than if you are relying on subtitles.
These days, Chinese production companies are increasingly involved in Hollywood blockbusters, too. So you never know when your Mandarin will come in handy in the next big action flick or Netflix series!
3. You’ll Form Meaningful Connections With Chinese People
Some of my best friends are people I've met at home and abroad as a result of speaking foreign languages.
Over the years, I've learned 8 languages and each one has allowed me to make new friends and connect more deeply with speakers of that language.
You'll find you have the same experience when you learn Chinese.
Whether this means making a new friend, securing a business deal, or simply having a proper conversation with a Chinese-speaking family member for the first time, these personal connections are one of the most rewarding things about learning Chinese.
4. Chinese Language Skills Give You An Edge In The Job Market
Chinese is a valuable asset in today’s business world. In a changing global economy, people throughout the world are paying more and more attention to China’s influence and the role it will play in decades to come.
From doing business with Chinese companies to working in China to interacting with local Chinese communities elsewhere in the world, Chinese language skills will prepare you for a vast array of opportunities.
Here are just a few ideas of job paths that Chinese language skills can unlock. Every item on this list is a position that a real person I know has landed thanks in large part to their Chinese skills:
- International trade and marketing – advising companies on how to appeal to the Chinese market
- Educational consultant – helping Chinese students apply for overseas universities
- Tourism and retail – many hotels, duty-free stores, or retail stores in popular tourist destinations have demand for Chinese speakers
- Supply chain management – communicating with Chinese suppliers for manufacturing, parts or materials
- Government or city council staff – Chinese language skills and cultural competency are valuable in government ministries and trade associations in many countries throughout the world
This is just a brief snapshot of the opportunities out there – you’re bound to discover more along your own Chinese learning journey.
5. Chinese Is A Fascinating Language To Learn
The process of learning Chinese itself can be fun and engaging!
The most intriguing part, in my opinion, is learning Chinese characters.
At first they can seem like a bunch of mystifying squiggles. But once you start learning how they fit together, you’ll be hooked! Learning Chinese characters is a bit like fitting together pieces of a giant puzzle.
The characters themselves even have stories to tell.
Take the character 楼 (lou), for example. It’s made up of 3 components:
- 木 (mù), which means “wood” or “tree” (take another look at it and you’ll see why!)
- 米 (mǐ), which means “rice” (also a plant – see the little grain-like dots added at the top?)
- 女 (nǚ) which means “woman” (legs, arms, head – yep, there she is!)
So what do these three things mean when put together? A structure made of wood, where a woman lives and stores rice? That’s right, it’s a house or building!
Another much-celebrated feature of Chinese are its 4-character idioms, or 成语 (chengyu), that originate from classical Chinese.
These are often poetic, sometimes quite literal and sometimes very obscure! Here are some interesting examples:
- 路顺风 (yī lù shùn fēng), literally translates as “one road smooth wind,” a phrase used to wish someone a good trip
- 丢三落四 (diū sān là sì) literally “lose three forget four,” used to describe a scatter-brained person who’s always losing things!
- 对牛弹琴 (duì niú tán qín) literally “to play the lute to a cow.” Used to describe wasting your time talking to a stubborn or unappreciative audience, a bit like the English “to cast pearls before swine“ or “to preach to deaf ears.”
Why Learn Chinese?
These 5 points are just a basic idea of what you can get out of learning Chinese. Like any language, learning Chinese will require time and effort – but the payoff is absolutely worth it.
There are so many reasons to learn Mandarin or Cantonese, from boosting your hire-ability on the job market to connecting more deeply with Chinese people and Chinese culture.
Who knows what other benefits you’ll discover from learning Chinese? Perhaps you’ll have the trip of lifetime? Meet your future spouse? Discover a passion for Chinese music or film? There’s only one way to find out – to get started!
Has this article inspired you to start learning Chinese? And if you're already learning it, what made you want to start? As ever, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below.