I administer an Asian Languages center in SE Portland. The Bodhi Tree Language Center since 2003 has been offering classes in Mandarin Chinese for preschoolers, children and adults. Our first class was a Japanese class for Adults, since then we have classes in Mandarin Chinese, Cantonese, Vietnamese, Japanese, Thai, Lao and Tibetan.
Average profile of our adult students in Mandarin Chinese classes are educated professionals -- teachers, principals of public or private schools, libraries, software developers, business owners, financial advisors, tax consultants, marketing professionals. Most see the learning of Mandarin Chinese as a career opportunity (they are also interested in the culture and language in itself). We've seen quite a few managers from chip manufacturing plants come through our center to learn Chinese before relocating to China.
In our children's and preschool programs, many of the parents see Chinese as a very important language for the children to learn for the future.
In our other Asian language classes, the interest on part of the students is less career oriented, and more for pleasure or travel reasons. However, Vietnamese students are at least 50% interested in learning the language as a career choice -- as you know, at least among the large corporations investing in Asia, there is the one on one off policy, where for every one manufacturing plant set up in China, another is built elsewhere. Vietnam is a popular choice.
-- Richard Robinson
Bodhi Tree Language Center
Email: see Contact us page of our Website
I don't think it's appropriate to promote your own language classes here. We are focuing on the subjects of learning language and culture, and what will change to us if public high school students are taking Chinese. Thanks!
Oh, there's room for a bit of promotion here and there. And in fact, we're not only talking about public high school students. Commercial language programs are a growing niche, and can easily come up tomorrow.
i agree, this is appropriate.
If you or your children want to learn Chinese, there are many excellent programs in town. They won?t cost you too much and one of them is even for free. For more information, please check their websites as the following -
(1) Portland Community College ? For Adults
(2) Asia Health & Service Center: Yu Miao Chinese Immersion Preschool ? Age 3 and up
(3) Portland Chinese School ? For Children age 5 and up and Adults
(4) Oregon Hope Chinese School ? For Children age 5 and up
(5) CCBA Chinese Language School ? For Age 5 and up and Adults
(6) Jiaoying Chinese Culture & Art School ? For Age 5 and up
(7) Tzuchi Chinese Conversation Class for Adults ? It is free
Address: BG Plaza, 3800 SW Cedar Hill Blvd. #194, Beaverton, OR 97005
Contact: Mr. Benny Cheung for details at (503) 643-2130
As a Chinese teacher of myself at one of public high schools in Portland, I highly recommend anyone who wants to learn Chinese to take classes with Dr. Lina Lu at Portland Community College. She is excellent! Her website is
Thanks for posting this information, Richard. I'm happy to hear about options for further practice and study for adults.
I think languages are superficial and learning them is a bore. Yes, it sounds flippant and in some hippie sense it would be nice to get all cultural and cozy up to others so I can further my worldview. But, you don't need new languages to do so.
Languages are matter-of-fact---getting muddled up in the syntax and semantics of other tongues is hardly going to make a large impact on your philosophical insights into other cultures or life in general. Few of us know enough about the one language we speak, I certainly don't. If I spent more time increasing my English vocabulary I might be able to think at a higher level and with more acuity.
The ability to learn loads of languages is perhaps representative of some linguistic intelligence and a good memory, but it doesn't say much about your overall smarts.
Multiple languages don't represent some inherent "big-thing" about the world and its culture that we have to find out, they are divisive---languages are numerous because of the mainly physical divisions of the past. Now the world is smaller, communications are quicker and easier, and learning multiple languages should be left to the people with the desire or the practical need to do so.
P.S. Weren't many of us just considering boycotting the Olympics, or are now doing so----and now you want us to learn Chinese (Mandarin) to stop a future war! Funny!
I just made a rather lengthy post to a new thread below, but wanted to comment directly to scottmil - while I obviously disagree, I'm really interested in one statement: "you don't need new languages [to further your worldview]"
I happen to agree with this statement - but I'm curious if scottmil's ideas of what it takes to "further one's worldview" are similar to mine, or very different.
I should say that I love to travel, it is the thing I look forward to the most in life. If I go to a place where the primary language is not mine---I download some language programs, I buy some books and I do the best I can to learn some
fundamentals. It is something I want to do and it makes me feel more confident. But I have a hard time with the suggestions that this makes you a better person---which is exactly what many on this blog seem to be suggesting.
There are people who travel that are probably very busy and perhaps don't have the time to learn basic skills, like I do---or perhaps they just feel their time could be better spent elsewhere. I am certainly not going to fault them for this or label them rude xenophobic Americans who are culturally unaware.
Yes, many Americans don't care about the rest of the world, and don't even want to leave the country. I am not one of them. I am curious about the world. Yes, learning a new language can of course have some benefits, generally most things have some positives. But, no, learning a new language is a not an inherent prescription for crafting a better YOU. There are many terrible people who speak multiple languages, are they slightly better terrible people for it? Maybe.
Language is just one matter-of-fact aspect of life, there are many other subjects of inquiry that could be equally useful if not more so, then learning a foreign language. Language is a tool of communication and thought, what you do with language is far more important then language itself.
I appreciate your response.. and again, I agree that with you that learning a language is not necessarily a path to personal betterment. But it might be..
Leaving aside that what you describe is really not learning a language (downloading some language programs).. I would like to return to the question - give me an example of something that does make you a better person?
I'd be inclined to say that genuinely trying to understand others' worldview DOES make one a better person.. and committing oneself to six months in country and two years of communicative study of another language (and culture) may very well make you a "better" person, or at least a more open person.
Perhaps even a jerk would be a better jerk if they committed themselves to try to understand someone else from their own perspective. :)
So how do we become better?
I'm interested in your line "Now the world is smaller, communications are quicker and easier."
If our learning other languages has been incidental in these changes, do you attribute them to technology alone? Or something else?
Scott: You're uninformed, possibly ignorant. If languages are so superficial, try going without yours. Maybe you mean [i]foreign languages.[/i] You appear to dismiss anyone who doesn't speak English.
Languages are not "matter-of-fact." On the contrary, they are all about "getting muddled up in the syntax and semantics" of human interaction. They provide the framework for our ideas, thoughts and expression, and are the very foundation of our information age. You incorrectly assume that most people speak only one language. While that's true for the 4% of the world's population that reside in the US, it is the exception in the rest of the world. Not only does the majority of the planet speak a language other than English as their native tongue, most of the world's population speak more than one language as a matter of routine in their daily lives. If, as you seem to desire, you spent more time studying English, you'd learn that English itself is an amalgamation of numerous other languages, and owes its incredible richness to the cultural diversity of its many speakers. English has proven able to accept and incorporate their ideas and expressions into itself. How ironic that you, someone who rejects such multiculturalism, should benefit from it by speaking a language that is nothing if not multicultural.
Third paragraph (since I'm rebutting your remarks by paragraph): Just out of curiosity, if linguistic intelligence and a good memory are not good indicators of overall smarts, what are?
To say that languages are divisive is height of ignorance. Yes, they evolved in physical isolation, but they didn't [i]cause[/i] the isolation! And although many people have no desire, need or aptitude to learn another language, your dismissive and flippant attitude on the topic is counter productive and even dangerous. It is people like you, who have no curiosity or interest in other cultures, who are smug and comfortable in their own single-minded way of thinking, and who do not accept or cannot even conceive of alternate viewpoints, who take reckless and stupid actions like leading a nation to a war they do not understand and cannot win.
Your last paragraph is an exclamation point of ignorance: Those who would boycott the Olympics in protest against an oppressive political regime are the very ones who would benefit MOST from learning Mandarin. Their protests, spoken in Chinese, will not fall on deaf ears. (Unless, of course, they are your ears.) Funny!
I don't know how to respond while being polite. Clearly you didn't get the sarcasm and in addition you made so many incorrect assumptions and leaps from my post(s?) it is hard to even respond. I would say it is just my poor writing, but I have to assume part of it is you. That you are reading my words with a conformist mentality.
Yes, I was referring to languages other then your first language. I said nothing to indicate I reject multiculturalism. You approached what I wrote with the cliched view that everyone who doesn't agree with the importance of learning another language must be a xenophobe and closed-minded---when the exact opposite is true. You might look at my other response above.
A good grasp of philosophy.
I feel you should be slower to suggest that I am ignorant, single-minded and without curiosity---perhaps, these rushes to judgement are what lead to war.
I'm sorry, but there is no nice way of putting this, and I hope I am not making the same mistakes you made above---I think you don't have the type of intelligence required to understand my view. This doesn't make you a bad person---just different from me. I'm also sorry, that even though we speak the same language we still can't understand each other. Would a linguist help? Or are there some barriers that language can't bridge?
Language sets the human apart from all animals. Language is the tool through which humans build intelligence. However, I am not sure that languages themselves are an inherent intelligence. They are simply symbols or vehicles on which we base or build our intelligence, through application and connection.
To learn one language or to learn twenty languages would only marginally, if at all, increase your intelligence. Many intelligent people know only one language and many intelligent people know several languages. To suggest the multilingual folk are of greater holistic intelligence then the monoglots seems foolish and unlikely. To suggest the multilingual have a wider more inclusive worldview and greater overall cultural sensitivity is also a huge stretch. The two are not always commensurate and it is rather discriminatory to state that they are.
This mishmash seems similar to proposing (although I haven't thought it through) that musicians who play multiple instruments are better overall musicians, then musicians who play, and perhaps excel at, only one instrument.
Please see my comments and responses to your comments in italics, following or adjacent to your previous message, which I've copied into this reply:
I don't know how to respond while being polite.
[b][i]Perhaps you edited out all the rude stuff. Your comments seem perfectly polite. Thank you for that. [/i][/b]
Clearly you didn't get the sarcasm and in addition you made so many incorrect assumptions and leaps from my post(s?) it is hard to even respond. I would say it is just my poor writing, but I have to assume part of it is you. That you are reading my words with a conformist mentality.
Yes, I was referring to languages other then your first language. [i][b] I got that. I was being sarcastic, too.[/i][/b] I said nothing to indicate I reject multiculturalism. You approached what I wrote with the cliched view that everyone who doesn't agree with the importance of learning another language must be a xenophobe and closed-minded---when the exact opposite is true. You might look at my other response above.
[i][b] You say that you don't reject multiculturalism. So I misinterpreted your meaning when you state that you don't need a new language to "get all cultural and cozy up to others so I can further my worldview." Unless you are doing this in some sort of pantomime, then you must be relying on your correspondent's knowledge of English. In which case IT is the foreign language. The other possibility is that you choose not to speak with anyone at all, but gain your cultural insights through non-linguistic means, such as architecture or cuisine. While interesting, such appreciations of other cultures strike me as incomplete. Thus I continue to assert that even though you believe yourself to be accepting of multicultural viewpoints, your understanding of them is less profound than you realize. Also: in no way did I mean to imply that everyone who doesn't agree with the importance of learning another language is a xenophobe. My wording was quite specific. I was referring to you and people like you. By that I mean people who believe they have a more profound understanding of things than they actually do, but who nonetheless do not hesitate to produce lengthy discourses on the correctness of their viewpoint. Happily, this latter subset of people is but a small minority. Most people who think they know more than they actually do are content to keep such ideas to themselves. Perhaps they are protected by a subconscious self-awareness of their ignorance--a word I use non-pejoratively to mean lack of knowledge in a passive sense, and not an active rejection of learning.[/i][/b]
A good grasp of philosophy. [i][b] Is that it? What about mathematics? Science? Economics? [/i][/b]
I feel you should be slower to suggest that I am ignorant, single-minded and without curiosity---perhaps, these rushes to judgement are what lead to war. [i][b] I enjoy one advantage that you do not. I learned another language as an adult. So I know what it's like to speak only one language, and I have some idea of what I didn't know about and could not conceive of before acquiring my second language. And although I hold a master's degree in it, I know that my understanding of it is far from perfect. Even after living for two years and attending college in that foreign language, I appreciate that I will never achieve a complete understanding of the culture. Do you assert that you can appreciate the culture as fully or more fully than I can without the burden of learning the other language? [/i][/b]
I'm sorry, but there is no nice way of putting this, and I hope I am not making the same mistakes you made above---I think you don't have the type of intelligence required to understand my view. This doesn't make you a bad person---just different from me. I'm also sorry, that even though we speak the same language we still can't understand each other. Would a linguist help? Or are there some barriers that language can't bridge? [i][b] I'm relieved to know that I'm not a bad person simply because I lack the intelligence to understand you, and bow before your obviously superior mind. I apologize for my lack of ability to empathize or understand you, and thank you for your gentle kindness towards me by indulging my lack of intellect and gracing me with your valuable insights and experience. Perhaps when I'm older i will come to understand the depth of your wisdom. Or perhaps such wisdom will come to me only after I have fully mastered English.[/i][/b]
You can live in a monastery with little contact to the outside world and never leave it and learn multiple languages. The simple act of learning languages isn't enough to suggest that they alone make a person more culturally aware. I certainly think they can be a way to further cultural awareness, but there are other ways.
You are making repeated generalizations of what it means to learn another language and overstating the impact.
Yes, if I go and live in Russia and learn to speak Russian it will most likely make me more culturally aware of the Russian culture then I would have been in Portland, Oregon. But the error you are making is suggesting that this is always useful! That people who don't do this aren't curious, have no "interest in other cultures, who are smug and comfortable in their own single-minded way of thinking, and who do not accept or cannot even conceive of alternate viewpoints, who take reckless and stupid actions like leading a nation to a war they do not understand and cannot win." This is a terrible view and as unfortunate as what you are accusing me of.
PLUS everything else in my post above that starts with "and."
I am a language learner and teacher - I hold a Certificate in TESOL from PSU. I've taught English in S. Korea and Venezuela, as well as here in Portland for PCC, Lewis and Clark, and as a Community ESL (now ENNL) instructor. There are so many issues indicated by this topic and the way it's framed, I look forward to hearing the discussion.
I'd like to highlight two points for discussion. First: it's interesting to pose the question of the usefulness of learning a "foreign" language in a country where people from many different language backgrounds reside. While it's a topic too long to address briefly, I'd just like to suggest that the question cannot be fully asked without considering the language environment wherein one considers what counts as a foreign language; and where a particular country exists in a geographic, political, economic and social matrix that includes adjacent countries, cultures, and languages. Nobody disputes the usefulness - or perhaps necessity - of learning the primary language of a culture that one lives in. Or, maybe we could say, that few English speakers dispute that learning English is important if you plan to live in the US - but people from the US, some of the most geographically mobile people in the world, are also widely believed to be the least linguistically competent travelers. And that's not to mention the many Americans who live in other countries and teach english or buy retirement property without having a communicative grasp of the language of the culture they reside in. This usefulness is not questioned in ANY OTHER COUNTRY, and I think uniquely reflects the linguistic privilege of US English speakers - in fact, the hidden question seems to be: what is the usefulness of knowing ANY other language besides English?
The second point of discussion branches off the first in a very particular direction: let's assume that you acknowledge(whether you like it or not) that you live in a large community that includes multiple language communities. How can one say that they understand this wider community without the ability to interact with some of these linguistically marginalized groups? Many well meaning English speakers wring their hands over the inability of certain folks to be able to communicate in English - but it is unarguable that non-english speakers DO reside here, and travel here, and anyone who has never learned another language, not to mention not spent significant time in a "foreign" culture, has almost no basis upon which to base generalizations about what's good for the wider community, what it thinks, needs and wants. Even further, in a globalized environment, one can not even reasonably generalize about (or understand) humanity or the human condition without some experiential awareness of "foreign" ways of thinking, knowing, and being. To pose the question of the usefulness of learning a foreign language is only possible from an entrenched ethnocentric position. This position I'm laying out has less to do with the specific culture learning that goes on from learning a particular language - a very important topic - but goes to what I think is a more fundamental question about language and culture learning - what is the general value to a human being (and her community) of trying to understand another's perspective or way of life? What do we learn when we realize that there are things we can't fully understand?
Our son tried to learn Chinese at one of language learning centers in SE Portland last year. We were not very impressed by his progress due to poorly designed curriculum and teaching instructions after ten month learning. We heard through the grapevine later that Operators of the learning center pay inexperienced teachers a cheap rate to boost their own profits.
Since there are no standards and special licenses for a qualified Chinese teacher in the states now, whoever speaks Chinese can claim to teach Americans Chinese. My question is how we or schools can find right Chinese teachers for our children?
This is a problem with the way language is taught worldwide - not just Mandarin to English speakers. Perhaps because language is something that we all have in common, in the sense that we all have at least [i]one[/i] language that is fundamental to our own communication and ways of thinking, we assume that we know how that language "works" and can teach it to others. For years, college graduates from the U.S. banked on the economic power of their native language and went overseas to "teach," with no pedagogical experience or training to speak of.
Just because you speak a language doesn't mean you can teach it well, or that you are aware of the kinds of things that go into learning a language from the students' perspective - it's a discipline that deserves professionals, just like anything else.
Note - I am not suggesting that untrained teachers cannot be successful - some are naturals, to be sure, but I believe that students will, on the whole, benefit from professional instruction and from classrooms and curricula designed by dedicated instructors with backgrounds in language acquisition, cultural transmission and sensitivity, and other elements of language pedagogy.
I am a student of Linguistics at PSU, and have studied Mandarin myself. For a native English speaker learning this language poses a number of difficulties, particularly the writing system and tonal pronunciation. I had to work very hard, with a high degree of interest, to even get a meager amount of communicative ability. In my mind, this only furthers Mr. Porter's point of view. I attended high school at Sprague High School in Salem and, at the time, there was no Mandarin Chinese program there. I doubt that there is one in place there today, let alone most of the other schools in the state. Because the language is so difficult to write and pronounce, and because of the rising prominence of China on the world stage, Oregon needs to have a solid Mandarin Chinese program at the high school level to give its students an advantage.
As to what one learns when one learns a language...well...that is a terribly dense question. I doubt that we could even really begin to answer that question in this format. Many people have dedicated their life's work to finding that out. I can state my opinion about what people learn, though. To me, it seems that language is a kind of operating system, similar to that of a computer. Each language has a unique way of conveying information. Differences in syntax, or sentence structure, may lead to slight differences in the way that individuals process information. For instance, when a sentence is in the past tense in German, the verb moves to the end of the sentence. So the English sentence "He went to the store to buy some eggs" would literally translate to "He is to the store some eggs to buy gone". Though the difference in time is minimal, the German speaker has to wait until the end of the sentence to know what the actual action that took place is. There is something to be said for our ability to predict what another will say, but despite that, it seems to me that there is a difference in the processing of information which may belie a different feel or meaning for each language, even though the content of the message is the same.
I don't think that one can learn a language without learning the corresponding culture. Part of how we communicate is the quality of what we hear and say. This is most readily perceivable in forms of politeness. If one ignores the social rules of a given culture, communication is likely to suffer as a result. Another example from German is the discrepancy between the address forms "du" and "Sie", which very roughly translate to "you" and "sir". It is expected in normal discourse that if one is speaking with a superior or elder, that the inferior person will address the superior as "Sie". The first time that I met the head of the German department at PSU, I made the unfortunate mistake of addressing him as "du". It was a mistake that I doubt I will ever live down without some profuse apologizing. ( "Also, ob Sie diese Sendung anhoeren, bitte verzeihen Sie mir!") In a way this sets up a cultural idea of superior and inferior, which definitely plays a role on the psyche of a speaker. This is only a small taste of cultural ideas that are imbedded within language.
There is also the idea within language learning circles that at the advanced levels of learning, one must choose a kind of character for oneself in the target language. In a way this is like an entrance into the culture. To what degree it is possible to become apart of another culture, though, I am not sure.
I hope that some of these examples will help the discussion along. If we can increase the number of good Mandarin Chinese programs in our public schools, our students will be more likely to later get jobs where both English and Mandarin are needed. Given that China will continue to play an important role in the world, it would be foolish to not pursue Mr. Porter's ideal. It would also aid in lessening the cultural divide both internationally and within the United States.
If I may, there is a side issue that should be addressed, in regard to Oregon's language policy. There is currently a measure that is coming up on the next ballot that would limit the amount of non-English education to the first two years of schooling. As can be predicted this would mostly effect students who speak spanish as their first language. In several studies, it has been shown that children that do not receive eight years of education in their first language do not develop the conceptual skills to perform at a high school level. In places where a similar program has been put into place, high school drop-outs for non-English speaking students has gone through the roof. I implore you all to defeat this ballot measure when it comes up for a vote. The proponents of this measure will likely make it sound like it will help these students, but I assure you it will not.
From Portland, OR
The idea and goal of learning a foreign language, specifically Mandarin, is a very important one. I worked along with my wife for some time at Woodstock elementary in S.E. Portland. Woodstock has a high quality Mandarin immersion program and partnership with China. I have also worked in schools with Spanish and Japanese immersion programs. Students learning in two or more languages think and operate on a level unreachable by those limited to one language, that in my opinion is without question. I would like to hear what listeners think about the inverse connection between this topic of American childeren learning other languages, and English Language Learners (ELL) students learning English. How do listeners see this topic connecting with proposed legislation that would limit the length of time ELL students can learn in English? Are we reaching out with one hand while cringing back with the other?
Learning another language doesn't automatically make one understand a culture or bring people together. That always depends on the reason for learning the language in the first place. It does make a difference if you're a tourist, a politician, a business person, or want a career advancement. The goals are different.
I speak fairly decent Spanish and was able to enjoy my trips to Central America very much. My goal was to interact with people I met on the busses and markets. It worked very well. I now have some great friends in Nicaragua and Costa Rica. Will it bring world peace? Maybe. I can hope.
Language has a tremendous impact on how we THINK. Since various languages have different ways of expressing ideas and concepts, the ability not just to speak but also to THINK in a foreign language gives a person a whole new perspective on the world. Not just the language and culture being learned, but also on one's OWN world and culture. For example, it's said that in Eskimo languages, there are many more words for "snow" than in English.(That may or may not be entirely accurate, but the idea is no less valid.) The point is that language learning gives one a new set of eyes, a way to see the world differently.
China, even though, a Communist nation, has achieved economic development and growthand is making a mark on the world, because they have studied it and have learned what the needs and wants are of the West. They have found a way to meet those needs and wants. They gained this edge by learning the Western mind set. Learning a language is much more than just the semantics; it is learning the context in which people communicate. Language teaches all of the things that a society and a culture value. They teach us what is important to the individuals who make up the society.
It will be America's benefit for us to learn how to communicate with others - especially other economic other power houses. If we are to maintain our status of a super power - we must learn to communicate and meet the needs of others.
Peaceful transitions among ascending and descending world powers have occured in human history. The Greeks to the Romans...the British Empire to the United States post-WWII. Both of these examples involved a common cultural bond. Mastering each others languages is an important step in creating these same bonds between the U.S. and China.
I wonder though, are there influential voices in China warning and preparing the Chinese citizenry for inevitable conflict with the United States and how can we defuse this challenge?
Joke: If you speak three languages, you're trilingual. If you speak two languages, you're bilingual, but if you speak only one language, you're American.
As a person who studied Mandarin in college and the father of a 16 year old high school sophomore I think that studying language in high school should be optional. Students should concentrate on the history and culture of foreign countries instead of learning their language. Most students know almost nothing about other countries. This knowledge is much more valuable than the limited amount of language skills that are learned in high school. Learning a language is a complete waste of time for most high school students. Emily, Viva YMA
In my experience with language learning (formally Spanish and German, informally French and Dutch), just learning the language is insufficient. It's not until time is spent within the culture, time and informal interactions, that the benefits are found.
American culture is very insular and everything disappears to be over the horizon. The real need, without regard to language, is to create a broader world view, recognition of the differences between cultures, a sense of history and from these derives the benefits not fully gained merely from language. So, this argues for integrating language study with other studies and none will have a genuine benefit until the student experiences directly an other culture.
I think this is a fantastic idea -- and not just for good business reasons but for cultural literacy as well. As it is, this nation is too insular in an increasingly interwoven world.
There's another thing: we should stop talking about Spanish as a "foreign language." What's foreign about a language that's been spoken in parts of the United States since the sixteenth century? Oregon's students should be learning English and Spanish as our native languages...AND they should learn a foreign language.
I'm also a language teacher and learner - my husband and I just returned from spending a year in Sichuan where I was on a teaching grant at a university, and he was interning at a hospital furthering his studies in Chinese medicine.
My Mandarin isn't great, but it's strong enough that I was able to interpret for tai ji quan classes and navigate most conversations. I also studied reading and writing Chinese characters, which was where I was able to gain the most insight into Chinese culture - many of the aesthetic and symbolic elements that were destroyed or abandoned during the Cultural Revolution are still extant in the formation of characters, and I found them rich and amazing sources of subliminal cultural detail.
As far as whether learning languages will prevent wars, I think the real point that underlies language learning is the willingness to accept another cultural reality as significant, legitimate, and worth investing in. All of these things are required attitudes for successful language learning, and (contrary to scottmil's point) [i]do[/i] involve a great deal of sensitization to otherness and of cultural transmission. This sensitivity can foster the kind of broad-mindedness and more thoughtful tolerance that can prevent war-like circumstances from arising in the first place.
Much of what they're talking about is in the context of business. What about learning mandarin in the context of academics?
Several years ago Scientific American had an article about how a human brain develops and prunes out capability for hearing phonemes. There are some number like 146 possible phonemes that humans are born with the neurons to hear and if they are not used within a few months the brain prunes those neurons out as unneeded. The baby keeps the phoneme neurons of the parents language and whatever else she hears and prunes out the ones she doesn?t hear. That?s why the Japanese have trouble with Rs and Ls.
I wondered if more of those neurons could be preserved by repeatedly playing audio playbacks of all the possible phonemes to the baby during the very early months of the childs life. And if that would make it easier to learn languages later in the childs life.
There are more speakers of English in China than there are in the United States.
This statement is not correct. I began studying Chinese in 1982 and have conducted academic research in urban and rural China for more than a decade. I have interviewed government officals and business people from the county level right up to the central government and find that very, very few of these leaders can speak English in any meaningful way. Some can corespond in email using English, but that is a different matter (see my last paragraph below). Once you are face to face with them, the interview has to be done in Mandarin.
Linguist researcher David Graddol estimates that about 175 million Chinese are studying English in school right now. Some percentage of those will actually become Englihs speakers, I would think no more than 25% but lets say 50%. That makes only about 90 million in the pipeline. Of the adult population, I doubt if mor than 5 percent speak english with any facility. That would be something like 50 million adults at present. So, within the next ten years, the Chinese population that can speak English may climb to 150 million but I would be surprised if it even gets that high.
If the commenter had said "there are more Chinese readers of English" it might be closer to the truth. Many highly educated Chinese read English fairly well without being able to speak more than a dozen words. As I said, it is frequently possible to set up an interview or follow up for a piece of information with an email in English.
"Many highly educated Chinese read English fairly well without being able to speak more than a dozen words."
That seems odd. It seems like I hear the words in my head as I read and wouldn't that mean that I have to be able to speak them? Maybe they would not speak the sounds in English accurately but wouldn't they be able to pronounce them in their way? I'll have to think about that.
Remember that Chinese speakers grow up learning a written language (Chinese) that has very little connection to the spoken language (Mandarin and local dialicts). Some characters contain hints to their Mandarin pronunciation but you can't count on it. It would be as if there was no written English and you learned to read and write Latin in school but spoke English everytime you opened your mouth. Under those circumstances, you might not think of the sounds a written language makes.
This would then influence how you learn other languages as well. It also influences the cultural assumption about what it means to "learn" a language. In some schools in China, English is taught entirely in Chinese, no spoken English whatsoever.
I'll be darned. Thanks. I had never heard of the idea of a written language with little connection to a spoken.
But when they read a document out loud do they mentally translate it into their own spoken language? Simultaneous translation which I understand takes great skill? And if they all learn simultaneous translation, well that's pretty amazing to me.
You've got my interest piqued.
It sounds like one of those puzzles where there is a series of pictures and the solver has to make a sentence out of them. The pictures are a universal but each language would have different sounds to describe them and how they relate to each other. I'd guess a lot like mathematics.
I was dismayed to hear what (otherwise) sounded like a bright young lady extolling the virtues of learning Mandarin all the while speaking English as an ?up-talker?. Unforgivable for a student of a tonal language that can?t seem to see the importance of the tonal aspects of her native tongue!
STOP UP-TALKING IN THIS GENERATION.
Explain further please, I have not heard that term.
Up-Talker: A person who speaks in declarative sentences yet with the inflection of a question. For some reason this is common among people who work for non-profit organizations.
Did you hear the up-talker during that meeting? I kept thinking she wanted me to answer her but she wasn't actually asking questions. So frustrating and annoying!
Oh, ok, I recognize what you're writing about.
I just always thought that was a lack of confidence in the speaker. Making a statement but also not sure you will agree and so turning it into a question at the end.
To the best of my knowledge, the use of inflection to which you're referring is just as much a class and cultural marker as any other regional or social dialect marking. It isn't "incorrect" any more than some regions' uses of double modals ("shouldn't oughta..." for example) or the dropping of the copula in African American Vernacular English ("She nice") for labeling consistent attributes - a linguistic technique used in many, many languages. The "up-talking" you mentioned has been studied as a class variation, and while I've never heard of it being traced to non-profits in particular, it [i]does[/i] figure prominently in the speech of middle- to upper middle-class women from the northeast under the age of 35. It is often seen as a tag to indicate an unwillingness to appear dominant over the speaker's interlocuter.
If this linguistic marker makes you uncomfortable because you don't know whether or not you're being asked a question, you might want to try expressing that in clear and gentle terms the next time you talk with someone who uses it. Communication goes both ways, and if you don't understand them, I'm sure they'd want to know that. Let your needs be clear, and then your frustration may be eased.
All the best.
"It is often seen as a tag to indicate an unwillingness to appear dominant over the speaker's interlocuter."
I recognize that. Women a bit afraid of their own intelligence, power and strength.
I would disagree with both my colleague Carl Falsgraff and Scottmil: learning a different language, INCLUDING grammar and syntax, can change the way you think, or at least make the learner aware that there are different ways of thinking. Communication is important, and essential, but knowing the structure of another language can be a window into basic cultural differences. Awareness of these differences is essential to language learning, just as becoming aware of other kinds of cultural differences. It also makes one aware of the structure of one's own language, in contrast to Scottmi'sl assertion that time would be better spent learning one's own language better: learning a foreign language does sensitize the learner to the structure of one's own language. (I say this based on my love of the French language and my experience teaching college French for 15 years.)
While I completely agree with the main point (that our society would benefit from a greater emphasis on language learning), I want to point out that merely studying or knowing another language will not automatically make one able to function professionally in that language. I teach, and I have had students whose first language was not English. Some have told me that they had difficulty initially when they returned home and took a professional job: they had not learned the professional vocabulary in their native language. Oh, they picked it up, but they did have to learn it.
To make leaders who can function successfully in two languages, we need to do more than teach a language class off on the side. Students need to be educated broadly in both languages: math, science, history, business, etc. I have seen a bilingual program at the K-12 level in which students were taught all subjects in both languages, alternating days, with the goal of creating high school graduates who not only speak both languages but are educated in both languages.
Now that is very interesting.
I am the president of the Board of Trustees of The International School in Portland Oregon. TIS teaches full immersion in three languages: Chinese, Japanese and Spanish. My daughter has been in its Chinese immersion program since she was 3. She is now 6 and has conversational Mandarin. She reads and writes Chinese characters and next year she will start pinyin. She is being taught in an environment where four different languages are spoken on a daily basis. Part of the mission of TIS is to understand the culture of the immersion language. For Chinese in particular, you cannot learn this language with sufficient fluency without understanding the culture. This experience has changed my daughter and my family in a profound way. Yes she has a skill that most others her age do not, but at 6 she understands that the world is bigger than Portland, Oregon. She knows that there are many different ways issues and ideas are considered.
My husband and I, who do not speak any foreign language have seen our child blossom and develop this hidden skill. It has given her immense confidence. Someone commented that the world is getting smaller, but not all schools teach our children this important international perspective. Aside from some of the benefits that are documented in scientific studies about learning a second language as a child, this immersion experience is giving these children a perspective that will assist them be future world citizens.
"since she was 3."
That has been my understanding, that languages are very much easier to learn at very early ages. I don't understand why we delay until high school.
The idea that learning a foreign language and traveling to another country to stop a future conflict is nothing new. The International organization call AIESEC http://aiesec.org/ was started for this reason. It was originally put together by students who wanted to stop another World War. It helps people learn a foreign culture and encouraged the learning of the language, culture and people.
I have studied multiple languages and traveled in many countries. Yes, it has made a difference and a different respect for other countries and people. The idea that you don't want to start a conflict with your friend is the basic idea to why you should learn another language and another culture. One is more likely work out problems with people they know then dehumanized them and attack them from afar.
I entered university in China right after high school. I ended staying there for twelve years completing both my undergraduate degree as well as my Masters and my PhD degrees. I had to learn the language both spoken and written to achieve this. I have authored book-length manuscripts in Chinese as well.
In my opinion, in the coming 20 years China will start offering some of the better graduate programs in the world. Some of its most prestigious universities are already doing so. Knowing Chinese thus opens up new worlds of opportunities for prospective undergraduate and graduate school students.
Lastly, I speak 5 languages in total. It is my opinion that as a second language, one should always choose one of the official languages of the Unitied Nations since they represent the largest slices of the world demographic. In the case of Oregon, if one has no intention to travel or work overseas, then Spanish would be the most logical and useful choice.
Arnaud Versluys, PhD
You know, I really like this show and the fact that it is discussing local issues with local people, but please, get a moderator who can ask intelligent questions. What kind of a question is this: "Do you think we could have avoided 9-11 if we knew the Arabic language?" Sometimes I feel like I'm listening to a fourth grader.
It's not such a fourth grade question. The US has never promoted understanding of the middle east even though it is an incredibly important region for not only oil, but for its political and cultural prominence. Language is one of the important keys leading to understanding and exchange with other cultures. Maybe if we had large numbers of American school children, tourists, business people who could speak Arabic, Farsi, or other important language, the US wouldn't have been seen as the devil and a target for the extremists. We still haven't promoted Arabic in any school that I'm aware of. It's a missed opportunity which we still have time to correct.
The predominate language that the US has spoken in the Middle East has been wars for Oil. That is not a language of trying to understand, that is a language of murder and intimidation. And Great Britain spoke that language to the Middle East before the US.
I very much doubt that the policies of Big Oil would have been affected much by Americans learning Farsi or Arabic, it certainly has not helped in the past.
Really, I think we could say that Americans and the people of the Middle East are friends and Big Oil and the Governments and Religions of the Middle East are enemies. Well, that is overgeneralized but is a pretty good fit too.
Yes. You are right. Oil and regional domination has been the goal of American and European foreign policy and speaking Arabic or Farsi was used only as a tool to further that cause. But I always hope that we're better than our greedy need for oil and build ties of understanding and mutual respect. God/Allah would be pleased by that, I think.
God/Allah and us Humanists would be very pleased.
I completely agree with this statement. I was just frustrated by how this oversimplified question skirts the complexities of all that was involved with 9-11: Oil, politics, cultures. I think it could have been phrased a more intelligent way.
I've heard other "What?!" questions on this show or questions that I feel should not have been asked at all based on the previous statement of the speaker, but that's just my opinion.
I've always thought that knowing something about a language gives you insight into the way native speakers think. For example, in English we say, "I lost the pen." However in Spanish you say, "The pen is lost to me." Also, I've traveled to countries in Africa that didn't have a word for "Please" and "Thank you". It can be very difficult to communicate with someone when one of the "staple concepts" in your language/culture is (or seems to be) absent from theirs.
Having studied an Asian language for now over a third of my life, I can say with utmost confidence that learning another language teaches you vastly more than the superficial grammar and syntax. To learn a language, to thoroughly [i]understand [/i]a language, you must understand the culture - a point which has already cropped up aplenty.
However, what I think is worth noting is that when we learn about another culture, an inevitable consequence is learning about our own culture as well. When given another, deeply different way of life, one cannot help but look at how it varies from our own, resulting in acquiring another perspective on our own lives.
No, foreign language study is not the catalyst for taking an analytical look at our native cultures; verb choice and sentence modifiers may not overtly speak of philosophical and cultural issues. Obviously, though, taking the language helps.
Language acquisition is culture acquisition, and though this fact may alarm isolationists and those who hide their ignorance of the world behind chauvinist rhetoric, the rest of us should enthusiastically embrace the wonderful expansion of knowledge of the world that necessarily accompanies non-native language learning. As such learning doesn't occur in a vacuum, as m_mac_o states, we learn as much about ourselves and our culture as we do of another through foreign language study. Hence, language acquisition can be seen as a positive feedback loop impacting all aspects of awareness.
I well remember, when I lived in Japan, a dinner party hosted by a Japanese acquaintance who was an English teacher, for my mother who was then visiting. The group in attendance spoke better English than I did Japanese, so my mother could thoroughly enjoy the conversation. When I perfunctorily apologized for our speaking in English that afternoon, our host replied that she really enjoyed any chance to speak English as she felt more relaxed and far less socially encumbered away from her native Japanese and all the necessary social restrictions that condition that more formal and socially hierarchical language. Other Japanese acquaintances have expressed this view on other occasions, and, contrarily, I myself find Japanese language more appropriate for certain experiences, emotions, contexts. Without a doubt, learning another language broadens one's world view and self-knowledge??so long as one actually steps out to communicate with others!
I am the Business Manager of The International School, a non-profit pre and elementary school that specializes on language immersion in Mandarin, Japanese, or Spanish. We are already doing what you are talking about, raising kids as young as 3 years old, to be fluent in Mandarin and other Pacific Rim languages. This skill will be critical now and in the future, and gives our children immense self-confidence. This is a winning concept that all parents should consider for their children.
The International School
I recently spent 10 months in Shanghai, China teaching English to university students there. While I do believe it's important to learn Mandarin, almost all of the educated people in China study English and many are fluent in the language. I think it's important to learn about other cultures and languages, but I don't think it's too realistic to think that a lot of Americans will become fluent in Mandarin. The Chinese people want to communicate with foreigners and English is the main language in which they communicate with us.
While I agree that the Chinese want to speak English, isn't it a bit egocentric to have "them" come to "us"? It's a very narrow view of the purpose of learning English and dismissive of the importance of learning Mandarin or Cantonese (or any of the other major Chinese languages). We don't know everything.
I am catching parts of your show... I just spent three years working as an urban designer in China. I had Chinese staff; lived in Shanghai, Suzhou and Chongqing. I found Chinese cities electric and exciting. I didn't pick up Mandarin because of travel and the brutal work schedule. I'm going back in a few weeks for another three years. I met two other Portlanders in our other offices...about the only other Americans.
I was also a special forces soldier; a advisor during the Vietnam war. I don't like American's alarmist attitude. I found the commom Chinese likes Americans.
Our son majored in Japanese, minor in business at UO. Has been in Toyko for the last five years. Foreign business culture is very difficult...
Though I advocate for international language immersion in preschool-elementary, to take advantage of the higher language learning aptitude of the young brain, my local public school district's World Language Task Force recommended the addition of Chinese or Japanese language to Newberg High School's curriculum, starting in the 2009-10 school year. New district diploma requirements call for graduates to earn two world language credits in order to graduate. It's a step closer to where we should be, I suppose.
I just heard your program on my car radio and offer a few comments.
I am not of Asian descent, but in the 1970?s I knew Mandarin Chinese well enough to pass for a Chinese on the telephone and work as a translator. (This is no longer true.) I have worked in three foreign languages (Chinese, Bulgarian and French) and studied 11.
I have found studying, and hopefully learning, a language is critical to understanding and working with other people ?whether selling something, trying to achieve other goals, or simply making friends. One can not overestimate the value. In addition, I think learning any foreign language gives us a better appreciation for other cultures and people in general.
One last comment. I think conversational Chinese Mandarin is the easiest language for a native speaker of American English to learn. (It gets more complicated at high levels.) I think it is great for American students to start learning it at an early age.
What Porter proposes is good--but for the wrong reasons. The value of learning a foreign language should be self-evident and has little to do with preparing Americans to decide if the USA should go to war with China in the future, as Porter has said elsewhere.
For all the so-called, in the words of Porter, "authoritarian governments," many of which the US has supported, China has been a good deal more restrained than most, and certainly better behaved and less violent than our own, so the point here is the framework that describes Porter's motivation.
I know! How about learning another language for the inherent rewards one gets? You know, that whole business that Charlemagne talked about when he said having a second language is like have another soul. Sounds more interesting and real than the evil, Chinese specter looming over our heads.
There are precious few programs in Chinese for adults in the Portland area, and what I've seen, they are either ineffective and/or expensive. If PCC were to start a program of Chinese modeled after some of the other modern languages it teaches which emphasize speaking, then that would be a step in the right direction.
As for the written language, Chinese would require 3-4 times as long as a modern european language for native English speakers, so spoken facility is about the best you can expect after only two years. Still, a properly crafted class could produce surprisingly good results.
Good luck on trying to find funding for such a program since all I hear are complaints about foreign languages as recently I was on Trimet, and when the the recorded voice was announcing information about the bus stop in Spanish, one of the passengers griped bitterly about that recording.
I took a smattering of Spanish before I vacationed in Costa Rica and experienced an epiphany. By learning other languages I gain new universes and people to explore. Language is a key that unlocks the door to understanding cultures different from mine. If you try to assimilate other cultures not only can you view the world with "different eyes", you can see your mother culture from a different perspective. So learning languages can be soul expanding. I admire Europeans I've met who speak four or five languages. Is Rosetta software useful for learning languages? I hear it advertised a lot on radio.
Great show and thanks to OPB for airing it. I like the "blog" format of the show as it pertains to radio and I think it works well.
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