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.

Size Matters: Macro vs Micro Finance in Africa

Tale of Two TED Talks

First by young entrepreneur Sangu Delle on how large-scale finance would lead to large-scale impact across the African continent. Second one by Joy Sun, who advocates for microfinancing as a means of allocating funds efficiently.

Going Big

Think the Marshall Plan … for Africa. After the devastation following World War II, Europe was not rebuilt using small microloans. Delle discusses this by first dispelling the misconception that every African is an entrepreneur – or at least a subsistence farmer.

This is a powerful idea, one I’ve discussed with friends at length; that most people in fact just want jobs. They become entrepreneurs in the absence of industries which could provide decent work.

So why wasn’t there a Marshall Plan in Africa?

I’m not going to get into the nuances of our complicated relationship as a continent with the West ; See The Internet for More. However one thing that made the difference between the success or failure of the Marshall Plan was the presence of strong institutions.

The Marshall Plan saw the formation of the Organisation for European Economic Co-operation, which was the predecessor to the OECD and the European Union. This body allocated financial aid from the United States to countries across the region. Loans were made to private businesses and the repayments were used by governments to in turn fund infrastructure projects.

A favourite factoid in the area of development is how the economies of South Korea and Ghana were roughly the same size in the 70s, but the Korean economy powered ahead while Ghana faltered. Korea had the Marshall Plan-type aid programme, Ghana did not. If you need to grow quickly, you need to think a bit bigger than giving every household just enough money to buy a goat. You need to build industries and nurture the industrial titans that come with them.

Something for Everyone

Microfinance is about financial inclusion. Many people in developing countries who would otherwise not have access to financing are now able to gain access to financial services. Microloans have been a powerful tool in alleviating poverty across the developing world.Like macro-finance, the success of micro itself lies within disproving another popular fallacy; “Poor people are poor because they can’t make good decisions”

In this talk Joy Sun goes out to dispel the myth, with some interesting insights.

She explains that empirical evidence shows that in many cases, individuals had repurposed aid given to them; that is, sold donated goods for cash. This cash was used to actually improve their lives. It’s sometimes a cruel thing we do by taking away the autonomy of those we seek to help.

Sun showed that people who received cash were able to work harder while the costs of cash transfers were much lower than regular aid.

The success of microfinance in Africa, and the perhaps the failure of macro, could be attributable again to state of institutions on the continent. It is in a way going around many governments who have been known to misappropriate foreign financial aid. It this achieves a significant degree of efficiency in the developing world. Mobile technology on the continent has also made it a lot cheaper and easier make funds available to individuals.

Sangu Delle and Joy Sun weigh in on how to best provide financial assistance in Africa

Sangu Delle and Joy Sun weigh in on how to best provide financial assistance in Africa

I saY we go big

I am one for the grandiose. I’m an idealist who believes we could clean up our act and push towards macro-finance as Delle suggests. I think that small transfers are only palliative, and a reaction to a failed system. We need a Samsung, VW or Airbus. We need a Marshall Plan for Africa.

I cannot discount the good microfinance has done across the world. What’s your take on the issue?