10 Reasons You Shouldn’t Learn Chinese

This is really just a quick fire response to the government’s supposed intention to introduce Mandarin education in public schools, as reported by the Mail & Guardian a week or so ago:

The article quoted a Circular from the national department of education stating:

The roll-out of Mandarin will be incrementally implemented in schools as follows: Grades 4-9 and 10 will be implemented in January 2016, followed by grade 11 in 2017 and grade 12 in 2018

China is a global power, and Mandarin has the most speakers in the world as a first language. So is this a rare moment of progressive thinking in our education department? Not quite, here are 10 Reasons why you should probably not drop your French lessons. There’s a wealth of reasons why it’s important to pick up a foreign tongue, but populism is food for polemic.

1.It’s Not a “Global Language”

I’m not so ignorant as to believe that “Chinese” is a single language, what often is the case is that people are referring to Mandarin, so accept the misnomer as a device for simplification. “Chinese” is only spoken in one corner of the world.

Chinese-Speaking Countries around the world
Chinese-Speaking Countries around the world

2. No Alphabet

chinese-symbols-tattoo-designs-2No phonetic principle behind its various characters. Several of the sources I’ve read believe one would need to learn anything between 2000-4000 caricatures to become proficient.

There is a historical reason behind this. In imperial China only the elite were meant to learn how to read and write. The best way to ensure that the lesser among them would never eventually get what they were trying to say is to increasingly add more characters and change others. So in some respects  written Chinese had been a secret code. It’s like being off Twitter for a week and not being in the loop when this one new word is being overused and misused to death like groceries.

3.  Not Practical

Yes, the characters are pretty. But it isn’t very efficient for writing. Plus, not being in an environment with first language speakers could lead to one missing the many nuances of the language. You understand figurative speak in English primarily through exposure.

4. Chinese think your English is a greater asset

China is offering English as a language throughout schools, in China many would prefer to speak in English as an opportunity to practice. There is even a phenomenon where Chinese businesses have been “renting” white people to appear more global. Have a look at this trailer for the Rent a White Guy by Vice News

5. It is not the language of science or business

This is the point where our friends who insist on post-Apartheid institutions should still be teaching and publishing in Afrikaans should luister to as well. I’m reminded of a story I heard when I sat in on a Research Week talk.  French academics were once leading in certain areas of research for a long time, the problem was that they weren’t recognised as most of their journals chose to publish exclusively in French. This led to stagnation in some areas out of a lack of international cooperation, and eventually the community loosened up to accepting English as the lingua franca of science.

Chinese growth isn’t based on innovation as much as it is based on building infrastructure, and producing better than anyone else. As long as the English speaking world still leads in fields of innovation; business and scientific concepts are more likely to still be in English.

You won’t be surprised any time soon all the concepts in your science textbooks are Chinese.

6. China is now, but isn’t Africa the Future?

China is big now and set to overtake the US as the world’s largest economy. Even though, may I add it is hard to get accurate economic  data from the socialist state. However that may be, both China and the US have their eyes fixed on Africa as the world’s Last Frontier. If this is your home continent, wouldn’t it serve you better to become acquainted with it rather?

Swahili in East Africa, French in Central Africa and parts of West Africa, Arabic to the North. Our leaders bitch about how little trade is done between countries on the continent, but we keep finding tools like language to alienate ourselves from one another. Shouldn’t our leaders rather encourage education in the languages that are going to assist in furthering the African agenda? No clearer was a sign of division across lingual lines than when our own Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma was vying to be elected as the AU Commission Chair; the Anglophones and Francophones were split right down the middle.

7. The bandwagon is  slowing

The recent crash showed that China is not impervious to decline. Slowed population growth rates, and rising inequality could be a catalyst for upheaval in the future. If you doubt that this one nation is immune to the entrapment of breadline politics, see every other revolution in history.

India’s population is set to overtake China, and if come a day there are more Hindi speakers than any other language in the world, do we go Hindi?

8. No Linguistic overlap

So you know how South Africa has 11 official languages and everyone thought that it was going to be a mess? We’re not going to go into that now. Well most languages in South Africa have similarities with each other. Whichever part of the country you’re in, you know when you need to deck a guy for swearing at you.

Language Families Map from Wikipedia
Language Families Map from Wikipedia


The same goes for many Latin, Romantic or Germanic languages in Europe (Indo-European Family). Learning French may help you catch a few Italian or Spanish words. It is not so easy when you deviate from Chinese.

9. Not a “Career Maker”

Again, most Chinese investment is coming into Africa. Not many companies are going to list proficiency in Mandarin as a requirement anytime soon and why should they? Not many companies are suddenly closing shop and moving to China so they can prevent their staff from going on to Facebook during working hours.

10. The Internet

The gods have been kind to the English language. By being the predominant language on the internet, it meant that the single age in human history that produced the most information, has seen almost all of it generated and disseminated with the anglophone in mind.

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