I am actually learning Chinese mostly for fun, and to support the cultural heritage of my son, but quite often people remark that it is excellent that we are learning Chinese since China is such an up and coming economic power (or rather it is already), and one is sure to have one’s fingers in a honeypot of job opportunities if one speaks Chinese.
Today I was pointed towards a great blog article about just this at China Economics Blog. It is a bit sobering, a bit funny, and just in general a breath of fresh air and sensible thinking.
“Although Chinese may in fact be in high demand, what’s equally important is to factor in is the supply of Chinese speakers. According to the US census, in 2006 there were 2.5 million** people in the United States who speak Chinese at home. That’s more than any language other than English and Spanish. What this means is that not even counting the hundreds of thousands of American currently studying Chinese as a second language, there are already over two million Americans, who by virtue of growing up speaking Chinese, speak the language better than you ever will, regardless of how much you study.”
Hmm, yes, well that is so true. Every day I bump into gradeschoolers whose Chinese and French are BOTH better than mine! And their English may not be far behind, and will probably be just as good by the time they arrive at employable age.
So, even if the local company is looking for a CEO who can go on a trade tour to China and converse fluently, it will likely not be you, me, nor my “raised by an anglophone mom” son.
So, how about moving to China?:
“On the other side of the ocean, English proficiency in the Middle Kingdom is spreading like SARS in a Chinese train station during Spring Festival. Every year Chinese universities are churning out millions (literally) of graduating English majors, a large percentage of whom don’t find jobs with their bilingualness either. Those that do, tend to start out in the 1000 RMB per month range, about 170 USD. In short, there is no bottleneck in communication between China and the United States. And in a capitalist world governed by the laws of supply and demand, there is little justification for hiring an American and paying him an American wage solely because he can speak Chinese.”
LOL! Yes, go down any street in Beijing, and you are likely to be accosted by students of English of all sorts, wishing to practice. And there are millions of them, as this article notes… all with perfect Chinese, perfect knowledge of Chinese culture, and whose English is better than our Chinese will ever be. Sigh! We do remain interesting as a western curiosity and opportunity to pick up an Eastern Canadian accent.
So, what do you need to be successful doing business with China? Skills. In whatever specialty you chose… I am pretty sure that if you pioneer a new brain surgery technique, you will be welcome to go over there and lecture, and IF you speak Chinese passably as well, they are more likely to send you on a fun trip overseas than your monolingual colleague (or your bilingual one who speaks English and Spanish). It may not get you paid more, but may allow you to claim a trip to Shanghai and all your meals there as a business deduction. 😀
Happy studying! How do you say that? Xue xi kuai le! ??