Why learn Chinese?

General discussion about learning languages
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zenmonkey
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Mar 13, 2019 8:27 am

Inst wrote:I'm familiar with first generation immigrants who are well-educated and have stayed in their target country for decades. Yet it always rankles a bit that they sometimes (or often in some cases) mess up the language they need for work and survival.


Does this concern about how other people use language come from your ideas that people must learn a language to C1? And yet here are all these people, walking around, living their lives, thriving and being the perfect demonstrations of just getting on with their so-called "messed-up" use of language. No wonder it rankles a bit. It is coming across as idiolectical arrogance.

Why are you spending so much time commenting on how other people learn or speak?
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Inst » Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:12 am

I'll actually point out that the people I'm discussing are C1 / C2 speakers, namely, they're my parents. In their case, one was told that their career progression through middle and upper management was stalled due to poor English speaking capability, in the other case, this person has been approached repeatedly about poor or often embarrassing English, despite operating in a professional ability, yet has categorically refused to improve that person's English despite being intelligent enough to polish one's English. You can understand why I'd find this objectionable, no?

It's actually very important that we're discussing Chinese, as opposed to other languages, in this context, because here the real need for proficiency is very important. If we're talking about people understand / comprehend China, a major problem is that there are a lot of people with cursory and surface understandings of the country. They create disinformation because of their partial, imperfect knowledge created by their partial, imperfect understanding of the language. Since Chinese is a very difficult language, "good enough" Chinese might actually be quite trashy and imperfect, and what we end up getting is the propagation and perpetuation of cultural misunderstandings through this basis.

===

The other importance of discussing Chinese, is well, Chabuduoism. This is basically a concept in Chinese culture, partially fuelled by Taoism and partially fuelled by underdevelopment. The term translates into "good enough"-ism, i.e, a constant acceptance and seeking of low standards. It becomes particularly relevant when we consider, say, the Chabuduoism in Chinese "translation" or how Chabuduoism leads to poor quality products, shoddy construction, and tainted medicines and food products.

The Chinese, in this way, are rather the polar opposites of the Japanese; i.e, there's no overwhelming drive to excellence and in fact there's an excessive tolerance for mediocrity. This is something that Chinese cultural critics have themselves named and brought up as a matter to address, in the same way, for instance, in the 1930s period, the Japanese were complaining about their own tolerance for mediocrity.
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Inst » Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:25 am

And, if you're asking about why I spend so much time commenting on how others learn, well, I just can't stand "happy with crappy" type attitudes. I get it. Language learning is hard. But you shouldn't use "language learning is hard" as an excuse to be satisfied with mediocrity; i.e, I object to "the soft tyranny of low expectations".

Of course I'm aware that language learners are different, that different language learners have different goals, as I've suggested with my translation in the other thread. Some learners learn for fun; i.e, people who like the notion of being A2 in 30 different languages. Others learn for use; people who pick up B2/C1 for professional use or to live/travel in a target country / countries. There are also language learners who insist on C1 or C2 on a small group of languages.

My issue is that I believe there are a lot of people in the second group who would rather be in the third group, but don't know it's possible to do so; i.e, they overestimate the difficulty of acquiring high proficiency in a target language.

And I would like to emphasize that C1 and C2 isn't much of anything either! If we go by English, C2 TOEFL is equivalent to only 25% of the lexicon of a native speaker!
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Cavesa » Wed Mar 13, 2019 10:52 am

Inst wrote:In their case, one was told that their career progression through middle and upper management was stalled due to poor English speaking capability, in the other case, this person has been approached repeatedly about poor or often embarrassing English, despite operating in a professional ability, yet has categorically refused to improve that person's English despite being intelligent enough to polish one's English. You can understand why I'd find this objectionable, no?


The middle and upper management is not the majority of the population or jobs.
It is totally understandable that the requirements for these people are high (after all, they want the best paid jobs), but they are not a representative sample of the whole society.

If the person's English affects their job negatively, it is their responsibility to either improve, or face the risk of losing the job they are not performing well enough as a consequence. But unless it is the case, improving beyond the necessary level (whichever it is for the particular job) may simply bring more sacrifice than profit and be a waste of time. You've said it yourself, that many other activities can be a better choice than language learning. If the person cannot see any reason to further improve their English, why should they waste time on it instead of spending it with their family, going to the gym, or knitting? Just to sound better to a certain sort of natives, that will never see them as equals anyways?

Don't get me wrong, the appearances are affected by the language level, and it is to some extent natural. If I manage to get a job abroad, I will personally strive to get beyond even my C2 abilities. Because it will lower the prejudices against me and also satisfy my ambition and need for external validation. But I totally understand the people who don't bother. Their attitude might actually be healthier.

Since Chinese is a very difficult language, "good enough" Chinese might actually be quite trashy and imperfect, and what we end up getting is the propagation and perpetuation of cultural misunderstandings through this basis.

This is a very good argument, if we interpret it right. Yes, getting to the same level in Chinese and French takes significantly different amounts of time and effort.

If we stick to the CEFR (perhaps for lack of a better scale, since the HSK is compared to it rather losely, from what I've read in various sources), which is defined mostly by functions you can do in the language, we know that for example B2 is likely to require the Chinese learners to learn many more things than the French learners. That much is true. But if they both reach B2 (the French one after a two years and the Mandarin one after six perhaps), they will be likely to do similar things.

C1 in each of the languages may be enormously different to get to, true. But that doesn't mean that anything bellow C1 is worthless in either of the languages.

Since this thread was started by a native speaker, I'd be extremely interested in Yafeef's opinion! I also love reading Tarvos' posts, she has lots of experience, knows tons of languages, and lived in China and other countries. I can think of nobody better to listen to!


The other importance of discussing Chinese, is well, Chabuduoism. This is basically a concept in Chinese culture, partially fuelled by Taoism and partially fuelled by underdevelopment. The term translates into "good enough"-ism, i.e, a constant acceptance and seeking of low standards. It becomes particularly relevant when we consider, say, the Chabuduoism in Chinese "translation" or how Chabuduoism leads to poor quality products, shoddy construction, and tainted medicines and food products.

The Chinese, in this way, are rather the polar opposites of the Japanese; i.e, there's no overwhelming drive to excellence and in fact there's an excessive tolerance for mediocrity. This is something that Chinese cultural critics have themselves named and brought up as a matter to address, in the same way, for instance, in the 1930s period, the Japanese were complaining about their own tolerance for mediocrity.


This is a very good note, various cultures have definitely different approach to being average, worse than average, or better.

But if there is such tolerance for mediocrity, isn't that actually good news for the language learners wishing to practice? The language learner's mission is primarily to adapt to the existing situation and improve their skills, not to fix the culture.

And, if you're asking about why I spend so much time commenting on how others learn, well, I just can't stand "happy with crappy" type attitudes. I get it. Language learning is hard. But you shouldn't use "language learning is hard" as an excuse to be satisfied with mediocrity; i.e, I object to "the soft tyranny of low expectations".


The problem is, that you call even the lower but still useful levels crappy, just because you obviously have no experience with them and no comparison.

And also the word "mediocre". If you look at its etymology, you'll notice that the definition of what is mediocre depends what is the whole observed sample like. In a world, where monolingualism is still common and A2 or B1 is a normal "pass" result of ten years of language classes at school in many countries, B2 simply cannot be called mediocre. :-D

Don't get me wrong, a part of your arguments are things I could definitely agree with (for example how much space for improvement is still left at C2). But the way you say it means, that everybody should just give up. This defeatist and arrogant attitude is not helpful at all.

I actually wonder, why have you come to this forum and whether you've read a bit of it before starting to preaching. A not insignificant part of the members has reached C1 in at least one foreign language. And majority has found uses even for the lower levels. If you were a bit more open minded, you wouldn't fail to see that.
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Inst » Wed Mar 13, 2019 11:07 am

I think one big difference in our perspective is based on the languages we're learning. Stuff like Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Arabic, these languages are very very hard. I think it would be reasonable to find a learner of very hard languages to tell learners to "evaluate seriously why you wish to learn this language because this is going to take a lot of time and effort". Learners of easier languages are more likely to encourage hobby learning or learning for fun, especially since in these languages you're more likely to get results through more casual study.

A big difference in Chinese and Japanese, although not necessarily Arabic, is that it's much harder to pick up Chinese and Japanese by practice than it is for different languages. The orthography is pretty arbitrary, more so in Japanese than in Chinese. Going through the process of reading to find a word, then looking it up, learning etc, etc, is a much more difficult process in these languages than they are in languages where the orthography better reflects the pronunciation. In the latter languages, you can probably get the pronunciation right, and guess the meaning from context, then move on. In Chinese and Japanese, on the other hand, you can't necessarily do that, and if you don't have ruby symbols (rarely seen in Simplified Chinese) you won't even know how to pronounce it, although you can make a wild guess in Chinese.
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Saim » Wed Mar 13, 2019 12:08 pm

Inst wrote:I'd actually suggest that people carefully consider why they want to learn Chinese. For a native English speaker, the language is going to take a ridiculous amount of time to pick up (4400 hours, 12 hours per day for a year, 6 hours per day for 2 years, 4 hours per day for 3 years, 3 hours per day for 4 years, 150 minutes per day for 5 years, ~75 minutes per day for 10 years), and what benefit do you get out of it?


Perhaps this isn't what you meant to say, but I feel like there's an assumption here that you need to go at the same tempo and spread the hours out evenly throughout the entire time you're studying the language. Of course, that's completely unnecessary, especially since the more of a non-transparent[1] language you learn, the more time you can realistically spend on it without being torture (in my experience).

If you accept the fact that you're going to suck for ages, and that in the beginning stages you're mainly working on slowly building vocabulary, it's not so bad to study a language like Arabic or Mandarin slowly. I've learned to appreciate the little victories when the languages are really very different to other things I've studied.

Of course, the more you spread out the hours the more revision you'll likely have to do so you don't forget almost everything. In that sense you realistically would have to make a lot of use of an spaced repetition system like Anki, because planning so much revision over such long intervals is pretty hard to do, especially when you're dealing with several languages.

Personally, I enjoy reviewing my Mandarin cards in Anki, which are at this point all sentence cards with audio (mainly training recognition, although I don't autoplay the audio so I also test myself on whether I remember how a given character is pronounced). Most of them are lifted directly from Assimil (Le chinois sans peine), and I make fairly liberal use of the "hard" button. I don't think I would've been able to do something like this when I was 16 and had only just started studying languages on my own, but after many years of studying various languages in my experience you do develop more of a taste for these kinds of activities and are more able to delay gratification. It also helps that I'm not really in any rush to develop high speaking skills in most of the languages I'm studying.

And yes, to actually get anywhere at a certain point you have to read widely, listen to lots of different things, and speak a lot. But there's no shame in slowly priming yourself for more extensive activities by building a more solid foundation first, even if it's at a snail's pace.

[1] I use "non-transparent" to mean a language with a lexical stock vastly different to other languages you know.

Inst wrote:Do you have some kind of Asian fetish? [...] being able to talk dirty to your lover is not necessarily a good reason to learn Chinese or stall out at moderate proficiency.


God, even on this forum? :|
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby David1917 » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:26 pm

It's actually very important that we're discussing Chinese, as opposed to other languages, in this context, because here the real need for proficiency is very important. If we're talking about people understand / comprehend China, a major problem is that there are a lot of people with cursory and surface understandings of the country. They create disinformation because of their partial, imperfect knowledge created by their partial, imperfect understanding of the language. Since Chinese is a very difficult language, "good enough" Chinese might actually be quite trashy and imperfect, and what we end up getting is the propagation and perpetuation of cultural misunderstandings through this basis.


This is probably why more people should be encouraged to learn Chinese, and not be told 500 times about how "hard" it is. It's no walk in the park like French or Spanish, but it's not like trying to put a man on the moon either.
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby tarvos » Wed Mar 13, 2019 1:41 pm

Inst, as someone whose Chinese would reasonably be designated as mediocre, I think I am very capable of saying that even my middle-of-the-road Mandarin has made me that much more able to integrate in China. My failing Mandarin made me able to communicate during a heat stroke in the hot Jinan summer. It ensured I have had loads of excellent camaraderie travelling around China, and it ensured I got a cameo on Chinese TV and was interviewed by CCTV when studying Mandarin. My Mandarin is barely enough to scrape through a translated novel, but with all these things I have had social experiences (including going out and spending nights in bars in provincial Jinan that were entirely in Chinese) that are far beyond what most foreigners will ever encounter.

And I am pretty happy with my reasonably crappy Mandarin, because no, at this point no one in their sane mind would consider me an interpreter beyond tourist stuff with my parents. But despite all that I had a great time in China, spent six months there and people were very happy to go out with me and talk to me. You can be insulted that they're all a bunch of lowbrow folks who don't have any standards, but let's not forget they didn't speak the required level of English to communicate with me (let alone my native Dutch). This cultural thing works both ways - I could be equally miffed that they don't understand my Dutch culture and aren't willing to immerse themselves in that.

And I was studying Mandarin at a very fast pace. I spent four months priming myself for that journey, and once on the ground in China I had some of the basics. I spent a month studying Chinese for hours every day and using it, and then I spent four months in a provincial city where I spoke Chinese at work all the time. And no, I wasn't completely fluent after a year, but as you can see above I was pretty all right and I was pretty happy with the things that I could do (and could probably still do now, probably even better as my Mandarin has improved). No, I knew that I wouldn't be speaking at a C1 level, and to be honest, I still do not speak Mandarin at that level. But even with the level I have, I am more than capable of defending myself, and that's the level I honestly require right now.

As for doing other stuff: my mother once took up Duolingo just to learn a few Spanish words, even though she has no need for fluent Spanish. Why would you deride those kinds of hobbies? Does the fact I'm an amateur chess player that can't hold a candle to Carlsen or Kasparov mean that I should somehow quit chess? Why do you espouse this kind of elitism? I know that I didn't start young and that it will take me ages to become even a fairly decent tournament player. Hobbies are just that - hobbies. If we were going to use our languages professionally (and may I add that I *have*, although not when it comes to Mandarin) it would be a different story. Hobby and private use do not have the same requirements as professional use, and if I wanted to become an interpreter (which seems like a thing I should do), I'd very much opt for a language I am really good at such as Spanish because it would make things a lot easier. And I might still improve my Mandarin or my Korean or what have you, just taking into account the requirements and energy that would involve. And I might or might not make certain professional choices given my lifestyle and circumstances (I'm a family woman and want to spend time with my partner and with my family).

Don't judge everything before you have all the details in front of your eyes. You don't know what people did or did not do to get to a certain place, and you certainly shouldn't pass judgement on their motives unless you are 100% sure that their motives were such. And if I were to somehow date a Chinese individual (unlikely, but hey), I'm pretty sure the dirty talk would come in handy then... and that, too, I believe, is a part of language and a part of the mastery I'd be very interested in achieving ;)

And as said above, Chinese is not black magic. It's a language spoken by almost a billion people. I like to joke that they're not all geniuses either. If they can learn it, so can I.

There will always be cultural misunderstandings and room to learn and improve. The answer to that problem is not to quit, but to be open-minded and show you are eager to learn from your mistakes. In that case, taking into account the cultural norms of your context, you will be fine.
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby zenmonkey » Wed Mar 13, 2019 2:10 pm

Inst wrote:I'll actually point out that the people I'm discussing are C1 / C2 speakers, namely, they're my parents. In their case, one was told that their career progression through middle and upper management was stalled due to poor English speaking capability, in the other case, this person has been approached repeatedly about poor or often embarrassing English, despite operating in a professional ability, yet has categorically refused to improve that person's English despite being intelligent enough to polish one's English. You can understand why I'd find this objectionable, no?


It helps me to understand why you are embarrassed by your parents' English and the mirror process of being embarrassed by your own Chinese. The work place is complex, both of your parents have reached upper & middle management and you are complaining about their language in this space? Do you see how disrespectful that might seem? It's quite common for migrant children to be critical of their parents ability in the language of their adopted country - heck, even my daughters laughed at my accent in German for a while - but your parents story is just proof, again, that people can manage and enjoy life with less than perfect language acquisition.

With time, I hope you'll find it less objectionable and be more open to whatever language journey they've chosen to partake. It's something they own, and only a small facet of their cultural wealth - in all likelihood their evident success in the work place is much more due to the holistic cultural value they each bring than whether or not they make small errors in English.
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Re: Why learn Chinese?

Postby Inst » Wed Mar 13, 2019 8:58 pm

zenmonkey wrote:
Inst wrote:I'll actually point out that the people I'm discussing are C1 / C2 speakers, namely, they're my parents. In their case, one was told that their career progression through middle and upper management was stalled due to poor English speaking capability, in the other case, this person has been approached repeatedly about poor or often embarrassing English, despite operating in a professional ability, yet has categorically refused to improve that person's English despite being intelligent enough to polish one's English. You can understand why I'd find this objectionable, no?


It helps me to understand why you are embarrassed by your parents' English and the mirror process of being embarrassed by your own Chinese. The work place is complex, both of your parents have reached upper & middle management and you are complaining about their language in this space? Do you see how disrespectful that might seem? It's quite common for migrant children to be critical of their parents ability in the language of their adopted country - heck, even my daughters laughed at my accent in German for a while - but your parents story is just proof, again, that people can manage and enjoy life with less than perfect language acquisition.

With time, I hope you'll find it less objectionable and be more open to whatever language journey they've chosen to partake. It's something they own, and only a small facet of their cultural wealth - in all likelihood their evident success in the work place is much more due to the holistic cultural value they each bring than whether or not they make small errors in English.


In my father's case, before he retired, his free time was more based on self-learning the intricacies of database administration and computer science, since in the given field you'd constantly have to update your work skills. This I can understand and respect. In my mother's case, to be frank, she's using her bad English tactically as an MBA, i.e, to espouse the "I'm a poor immigrant who doesn't understand your culture, is vulnerable, is victimized, and needs rescuing" tactic. We've discussed the issue many times, for her workplace requirements, strong English would be helpful, but I suspect her refusal to master English is similar to her refusal to master typing so she's never mistaken for a secretary; it's crippling oneself for image reasons.

One of the reasons I'm so opinionated about language learning is because of my mother's technique. In fact, she's spent a lot of time practicing and using the commonplace language learning skills utilized on this forum. But in fact, her English has stayed stagnant over the past 10 years.
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