By Todd Blackhurst
So you find yourself living in Taiwan or another Mandarin speaking culture. Maybe you are teaching English, or are here for business. Or perhaps you are a family member who was pulled along with your spouse or parent. So why not take some time to learn Chinese? And what good would it do?
After all, it probably seems like you can get by with a smart phone, sign language and the incredibly friendly local Taiwanese people. If you just wait long enough, someone will muster up enough English vocabulary to help you, right?
Learning Chinese is so hard anyways. Of course learning Chinese is difficult. It is one of the hardest languages in the world, especially for people from a Western cultural background. But, that being said, you will find a whole new world opened up to you as you learn to speak the local language here.
Why Learn Mandarin Chinese If You Live In Taiwan?
Just like Native English speakers appreciate even the smallest effort to learn a bit of English, so do Taiwanese. The effort to learn to communicate shows respect for the other’s culture and humanity. It’s a bit like those scenes in a space movie where the earthling encounters an alien and begins to try to share the most basic bit of information. Why? Because they want to communicate. Learning another language at it’s core is the desire to communicate. It says, I want to understand you, I want to be understood.
Of course there are many places in Taiwan where you will be able to get by with English. However, there are still many places where you won’t. A basic ability to communicate is necessary for your safety and to just get by. What if your car or scooter breaks down? What if you are alone in the middle of the country? What if you have a misunderstanding? What if you run out of money? What if you have a traffic accident and are suddenly surrounded by a bunch of very angry people? What if your smart phone runs out of battery? There are some basic skills in every language that every person needs. In my opinion it is foolish to live in a foreign culture without a basic ability to care for yourself.
Taiwan is filled with beautiful and amazing people, but the majority of them cannot communicate well in English. If you want to know them, you will need to speak their language. Whether in business, social or neighborhood life, being able to speak Chinese will open the door to long lasting friendships. Instead of just being friendly and smiling as you walk past, you will be able to have a conversation and begin to know about the people you see everyday.
Teaching & Culture
Perhaps one of the greatest values is learning about Chinese culture. Much of Chinese culture is taught as you learn language. Characters contain meaning, words contain meaning, so you will learn about many wonderful and interesting and yes, sometimes confounding aspects of Chinese/Taiwanese culture as you learn the language. It will help you appreciate the vast and sometimes hard to understand differences between our two cultures. As a teacher, you will better understand the unique place your students approach learning from. It will help you be a better teacher as you understand the methodology and culture of learning that Chinese people exist in.
Two Ways to Think or more
Learning Chinese will give you two ways to think. Because of the difference in grammar, syntax and words, you will gain a new way to process information and think. And as you understand and learn more about culture, you will have more than one way to approach things. You will gain a unique ability to see things from both cultural perspectives – neither wrong, just different. And at times you will be able to find better ways, new ways to do things because of the unique perspective.
What do you think? What do you see at the benefits of learning Chinese? Please leave your thoughts in the comments.
1 thought on “Why Learn Chinese?”
A lot of expats (myself included) came here to gain an emic understanding of a culture-cluster they have been fascinated by for many years, and arrived in Taiwan with a rudimentary understanding of the language. If you really want to understand it, as with any culture, you simply cannot accomplish that with translations. This applies to all disciplines from biblical studies (the messiah’s mother is never referred to as a “virgin” in the Hebrew of the old testament despite being translated as such) or with Asian architecture (the English word “temple” is used for a dozen different Chinese characters that all have different nuanced meanings). So if you were drawn here by your love for East Asian culture, of course you would invest the time to be able to communicate with the people who are it’s heirs.
Living in translation, even for a businessman or language teacher with limited investment in comprehending these sorts of things, also poses difficulties, even if they are not intellectual or professional. Without it, there is always a fog of misconception everything you experience is filtered through. So to gain more a direct, unmitigated experience of just being here, language acquisition is an absolute must.