Put Your Money Where Your Mouth Is
It’s the most infuriatingly oblivious statement I’ve ever heard, and it’s all too common: "If other countries want the American dollar, they’ve gotta speak English!"
Well folks, the dollar is on shaky ground in today’s world, so Anglophones had better start thinking about what currency we will be begging for in the coming decades, and what sounds will curry the favor of capitalism’s new curry flavor.
Whether it’s curry or chrysanthemum, rupees or renminbi, we need to endow our tongues and our wallets with a greater hospitality towards the foreign and strange.
After all, we’re halfway there, but currently still on the other side of the coin.
Go ahead, pick up any household item at Wal-Mart or Target…anything made of plastic in any store in the United States (if you are not in the US or Canada, I am interested in your results also so please contact me at email@example.com). Made in China? India? Sri Lanka? Vietnam? Yeah, I thought so.
Soon, the bird-flu infected chickens are going to come home to roost, and all the US bonds held by Asian central banks will be called in. Then the cycle will reverse, and we will be awash in yuan, yen, and the strongest of them all – euros.
We call this the petrodollar collapse, and it will entail the re-evaluation of linguistic supremacy for good.
Sure, English is the lingua franca of most of the world. It is widely spoken by the educated and upwardly mobile of every country, and in many ways defines one’s ability to move around the world freely. But that status has not always existed, nor will it always persist.
But it’s a good thing that some educational planners have the foresight and sense to equip the next generation with the linguistic wherewithal to succeed in a Sinocentric world.
Look East, Not South
Yesterday, National Public Radio reported on the mandatory teaching of Mandarin Chinese in some British schools. Anthony Seldon, the headmaster of Wellington College in Berkshire, opines thusly:
"I think that within ten years we need to have as many children in Britain learning Mandarin as are currently learning French."
That is quite an endorsement considering that it is 213 miles from London to Paris and 5063 miles from London to Beijing. Clearly some other factor besides knowing how to order General Tso’s Chicken in the native tongue is at work here. And as biographer of Prime Ministers John Major and Tony Blair, Headmaster Seldon is well aware that the makings of power require an early foundation.
In East London, at Kingsford Community School, students are required to take a minimum of 3 years of Mandarin courses with an option to continue. Most impressive is Kingsford’s 3-week course conducted in China, with an option to gain work experience while there.
These educational trail blazers know that learning Chinese is like holding job insurance. If you’re about to buy one of those early-morning dollar-a-day TV life insurance policies for your little one, while you’re at it you should get on the internet and find a local school for your child to learn putonghua (the common dialect, a/k/a/ Mandarin).
Kingsford teachers are also cognizant of dyslexic students who actually have an easier time dealing with Chinese logographic writing than alphabetic systems like English.
Not just for Chinatown
Here in the States, plenty of educators are reading the calligraphy on the wall. China is important and will remain so despite any political, economic, or social developments down the road. Moreover, the changes that many hope for and predict in Chinese society will necessitate intelligent foreigners to translate not only the words but the significance of Shanghai shake-ups.
Ridgefield, Connecticut is one school district that has recently voted overwhelmingly in favor of adding Chinese to its foreign-language curriculum. Superintendent Michael Hibbard puts it perfectly:
"While English is still going to be the international language, if you’re standing in line for a job and you’ve got four or five guys looking for this job and you’ve all got similar resumes and you’re all bright and nice and wonderful, and you’ve got conversational Mandarin and the company you’re interviewing with happens to have business interests in China, you’ve got a competitive advantage."
Many other school districts in all parts of the US are soon to follow suit, owing in no small part to the development of a Chinese Advanced Placement program by the College Board.
The Advanced Placement curriculum is considered to be the mark of excellent schools nationwide. In AP courses, students are given a rigorous education that culminates in sitting for AP tests at the end of the school-year. The reward is college credit that saves parents money and boosts prospects of acceptance to finer higher learning institutions.
In 2007, Chinese and Italian will be added to the AP course buffet, and national secondary school surveys conducted by the College Board have shown that Chinese is tremendously appetizing to school boards across the country.
Though only 50,000 US high school students currently take Chinese as a foreign language, there are also Huaxia "people’s glory" schools around the country. These institutions serve a community function to Chinese-Americans, endowing students with a sense of heritage and pride but also, these days – competitive advantage.
And the Chinese government is as keen on cultural expansion as it is on business. Chinese-language schools have been set up all around Asia, with outreach centers established on Beijing’s dime as far away as my hometown of Kansas City (the Confucius Institute will open its doors this May).
The Chinese government wants 100 million foreign Chinese learners worldwide by 2010, and I predict that goal will be reached.
You should note that the study of Chinese is by no means limited to students of Chinese descent. In all of the cases I have mentioned, pupils with no familial connection to Mandarin have sunk their teeth into the study of the Middle Kingdom and its language.
Even Wealth Daily publisher Brian Hicks can attest that though two of his children are non-Chinese, the two who are half-Chinese have taken to conversing with their brothers in Chinese. Rest assured, all four will be saying, "Xie xie" ("thank you") to their parents for the skill and joy of knowing the new language of power in the 21st century.
– Sam Hopkins