Why Study Languages
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Why Study Languages?


Over one billion people speak Chinese. That’s one out of every five people or more than any other language in the world.

The Chinese civilization is over 6000 years old. Its language is the key to the accumulated knowledge and experience of one the world’s oldest and richest cultures.

Mandarin Chinese is one of the daily languages of the people who live in Mainland China, Taiwan, Singapore, and the overseas Chinese communities.

China has the world’s largest population and the fastest growing economy and holds great potential as a market for U.S. goods.

The teaching and learning of Chinese language is vital in American education. Chinese is the sixth most commonly taught language in post-secondary institutions in the U.S. (According to the Modern Language Association report.)

China is emerging as a major player in the world scene. This has created a need for greater understanding of what is the world’s most populous nation. Successful communication in Chinese is the key for promoting a better understanding of China.

The United States government has designated America’s relations with China to be one of the most important foreign policy issues now and in the foreseeable future.

Chinese is one of the four "critical languages" for Americans. The promotion and development of Chinese language education is of critical importance to the United States in terms of both economic advantages and the national interest in the dynamic global community of the 21st century.

Ever-broadening U.S.-China relations are continuing to increase the Chinese presence in American communities.

Taking Chinese not only satisfies a language requirement but it could be the greatest asset to anyone's career background. There are many opportunities for government and business careers as well as for scientific, scholarly, and cultural exchanges for students of Chinese.

Chinese visitors, immigrants, and Chinese-Americans are all becoming more involved in all facets of the American society, including business, education, the arts, and various services in the community. Being able to communicate with and better understand these community members is a benefit in our multicultural society.

Mandarin is spoken by more than two-thirds of the Chinese population. It is the official medium of school and all other governmental organs for the purposes of cross-dialect communication.

Chinese is a member of the Sino-Tibetan language family, and is distantly related to languages such as Burmese and Tibetan.

There are many different spoken dialects of the Chinese language, but only one common written language (Chinese characters) that is used to communicate effectively between speakers of different dialects in China.

The sound system of Mandarin Chinese is relatively simple compared to other languages. There are only 405 basic syllables— less than in English. Chinese is a tonal language; most Chinese syllables are pronounced with one of four tones. The same basic syllable pronounced with different tones is likely to have completely different meanings.

Chinese characters each formed by a combination of strokes written in a prescribed order, communicate ideas and words meanings but give only limited information about pronunciation. There is an alternative way of representing Chinese speech through the use of phonetic transcription systems intended to serves as useful tools in the learning of Chinese sounds.

About 3000 Chinese characters are in common use. The largest Chinese dictionaries include over 50,000 characters.

Chinese calligraphy is a form of art. Chinese is one of the few languages that remain pictographic.

There are a large number of characters and two different sets of characters (traditional and simplified) in written Chinese and differences between spoken and written Chinese. Learning to read and write Chinese takes a long time so that students’ skills are not expected to advance as rapidly as those of students studying other languages do. A long sequence of learning that begins early is recommended.

1. National Standards in Foreign Language Education Project. Standards for Foreign Language Learning in the 21st Century. 1999. Allen Press, Inc. Lawrence, KS
2. Easton Language Education, eleaston@mindspring.com, http://eleaston.com/why.html 1998 - 2001
3. Learn.htm Chinese Character Tutor, version 6. Flashware International, Springboro, OH. 1999. http://ourworld.compuserve.com/homepages/fergab/
4. Chinese courses Home Page, Bowling Green State University, Bowling Green, Ohio, 2001. http://www.bgsu.edu/departments/greal/Chinese-courses.html