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New Post 30.12.2008 16:49
  shuai
1199 posts
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5 Reasons Why Learning Chinese Could Be a Waste of Your Time  

5 Reasons Why Learning Chinese Could Be a Waste of Your Time

Learning Chinese

Is learning Chinese a waste of your time?

If you want to maximize your ‘return on investment’ in terms of a good job, income, and ‘opportunity costs’, I’d have to say this is an almost certain yes. The Economist thinks so too.

While there are quite a few reasons why you might want to study Chinese, let’s look at some of the reasons why it could be a waste of your time:

Why Learning Chinese Could Be a Waste of Your Time

  1. Many Well Educated Chinese People Would Prefer to Speak to You in English - Even if your Mandarin is better than their English (uncommon, but not unheard of - and no the prime minister’s Mandarin in the linked video is definitely not better than the interviewer’s English)
  2. Little Applicable Value Outside of China - Most mid to upper level Chinese managers speak okay to great English. The only people you typically need Mandarin to communicate effectively with in a business environment is low level management. If you aren’t stationed in China, then, knowing Chinese won’t help you much in communicating with most Chinese companies.
  3. Possible Negative Market Value - To really be able to use your Mandarin, you’ll need to move to China, where you may have to take a large pay cut to get a job in which being fluent in Chinese would be an asset. This quote from the economist article linked above sums up things nicely:

    Within China companies can hire an expatriate who speaks Chinese. Or, more often, they take their pick from an abundant supply of local graduates in English who are happy to work for 2,000 yuan (£130) a month. “I took an 80% pay cut to come here because I wanted to learn the language,” says Ken Schulz, a software engineer from Silicon Valley who studied Chinese full-time for four years at Beijing’s University of Language and now works in the capital at WorkSoft, an outsourcing firm. “I’m the only foreigner in an office of 1,200 people, and I hardly get any opportunity to use my Chinese.”

  4. Huge Opportunity Cost - To really learn Chinese well, including reading and writing, you need to spend years studying intensively. These are years in which you could learn several romance languages or another skill set or perhaps even a profession.
  5. Non-Negligible Maintenance Costs - Even though I speak Mandarin when dealing with customers, read a Chinese magazine / newspaper daily, watch a bit of TV, and speak almost exclusively in Mandarin with my girlfriend (and some friends), my Chinese skills are slipping. It takes a lot of effort just to maintain, nonetheless improve, your Chinese.

Do I Regret Learning Chinese?

No, but from a practical standpoint there are many things I could have done with my time to get into a better job and develop a skill-set that is worth more on the job market. Learning Chinese was a good move for many other reasons, just not the ones that have to do with making money or getting a better job.

And if you’ve already set yourself on the improbably hard journey of learning Chinese, this commentary won’t sway you one bit anyway. 加油!


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