Should Your Children Learn Chinese?

Chinese numbersI was recently invited to a Chinese New Year celebration as the Year of the Monkey opens. One of the hosts was Dr. Ming Wang, whom I have mentioned in earlier posts and who is going to be my guest on an upcoming podcast later this spring.

Dr. Wang spoke briefly on the evolving relationship between the Chinese and American economies. He spoke of the slowdown in the Chinese economy as a necessary adjustment, something all economies must go through on the road to maturity.

Dr. Wang is a co-founder of the Tennessee American-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (TAC3), which exists to facilitate business partnerships between China and the state of Tennessee. While many Americans are concerned about the enormity of US debt owned by China, TAC3 encourages American business people and entrepreneurs to push against the negative talk and invest in the Chinese market — but not in a haphazard or uninformed manner.

Here are a couple of important take-aways from Dr. Wang’s remarks:

  1. Right now there are more Chinese actively learning English than there are people in the United States. Why are they learning English? Yes, partly because they plan to travel to the US or other English-speaking countries. But primarily, according to Dr. Wang, because they want to learn what their customers want — the first rule of any business. And for every ten thousand Chinese learning English, it is tough to find one American learning Chinese.
  2. If you want to do good business with China — or any other culture, for that matter — and you want to make a favorable impression, you should learn to view that culture from their perspective. Learn their history. Learn their philosophy of life. In the context of China, it is wise to learn something about Confucianism and how it still affects Chinese daily life today. Learn what is appropriate in face-to-face meetings. (Terri Morrison and Wayne Conaway’s book Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands is a great resource.)

So should American schools at least offer Mandarin? Seems like a no brainer. The world economy is shifting towards Asia, whether you as an American intend to do business there or not. We can look at the Chinese as an adversary — or we can engage them.

Have you or your children begun learning Chinese? Is it offered in your local schools? Tell us about it!

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