The answer to this question largely depends on you and your interests. Some of our students learn Chinese because of the opportunity it affords in business. Other students want to learn to speak a common language with the almost 1 billion Mandarin Chinese speakers alive today. Chinese language also offers a deeper insight and connection to one of the oldest and most unique cultures in the world. We can, however, give an overview of a few of the top reasons many people decide to learn Chinese, and perhaps why you might be interested as well.
1. New Job and Business Opportunities
American Chinese speakers find jobs in customer service, travel, post-secondary education, business, and other fields.
China’s economy has been steadily growing since the late 1970s. The current GDP of China is reportedly 9.24 trillion U.S. dollars. This is up from about four billion in 1990. Over 20% of global manufacturing takes place in China, though this sector is being replaced by the service industry as the new center of growth in the Chinese job market alongside the swift growth of China’s consumer economy.
It is fairly common knowledge that China’s workforce, unprotected by U.S. labor rights, manufactured many American-sold goods at a low cost. However, as the wages of workers in China rise, the next generation of Americans will be interacting with a new rising class of specialized workers in service and other professional jobs.
However, less than 1% of Chinese people speak English fluently. College students that are not English majors often have only a very rudimentary understanding of English. Therefore, for people in international business, learning basic Chinese can open up a world of opportunities. Additionally, for people thinking about teaching in China, a working knowledge of Chinese is naturally essential for navigating one’s community and daily life there.
2. Personal and Cultural Connections
For those with Chinese ancestry, learning Putonghua (Mandarin) can be a way of getting in touch with the culture of their family. Other people may be moved to learn Chinese because of their Buddhist or Taoist faith, and a desire to study their religion with greater depth. The original texts of Chan (Zen) Buddhism, for example, are all in Chinese. With a history of over 8,000 years and over 55 distinct ethnic groups, China holds people’s fascination as one of the major world civilizations.
Knowing a foreign language will allow you to bond with people from places far away and speak with people you never thought you would be able to speak with.
Some websites claim that learning Chinese allows one greater opportunities for travel in other East Asian countries. This is not always true, even in popular tourist destinations like Thailand. Nevertheless, China is a massive territory that now includes Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Tibet. You will find a large percentage of Mandarin speakers in all of these areas. Countries such as Singapore and Bali, while remaining independent, still have sizable populations of Chinese speakers. China itself is a massive country with ancient Silk Road deserts, lush forests, icy mountains, unique wildlife, sprawling modern cities, and ancient architecture. It is an almost inexhaustible resource for travel.
4. It’s an adventure that will enrich your life, and it’s not as hard as you think.
Chinese isn’t as hard a language to learn as people often suppose. People often worry, for example, about the differences tone makes in pronouncing otherwise homophonic words. However, there are only four basic tones in Mandarin: up, down, bending, and high. These tones can be thought of as a simple second alphabet with only four characters. Moreover, Chinese language has no tense, gender, or honorific articles.
Anyone can learn Chinese if they have sufficient motivation, and everyone can put it to a unique use.
Learning a new language is difficult, and it’s even harder without the right resources. When you take a class at Hong Tu we will help you master the language through a combination of lessons and materials to help you outside the classroom. If you want even more tools to help you in your pursuit to learn Chinese, here are 10 apps that we have found useful.
Cost: Free for Basic
Platforms: App Store, Android, Google Play, Amazon App Store
Pleco is a staple favorite among Chinese students, teachers and travellers. Simply put, Pleco is a comprehensive language dictionary. It provides both traditional and simplified characters, and has additional plug-in features for purchase. This app is ideal for looking up unknown characters found in readings, finding different word variations, and a single-character reference while traveling.
Cost: 15 day free trial; $15/month or $120/year for basic, $30/Month or $240/year for Plus
Platforms: Website, App Store, Android Expected Soon
FluentU is a great resource for someone learning or maintaining Chinese who is not enrolled in courses. Focused on entertainment-based learning, FluentU provides video and audio tracks in Chinese with the ability to have both English and Chinese subtitles. With the option to choose between traditional and simplified characters along with the ability to select the difficulty level, this tool is ideal no matter what stage you are at. A basic subscription provides unlimited listening and watching, while the Plus package provides a “Learn Mode” with additional features.
Google Translate Chrome Extension
Platforms: Google Chrome
Website: Chrome Web Store
Anyone who speaks more than one language will caution you from using a full translator, especially when translating Chinese. Keeping this in mind, the Google Chrome translator plug-in is a great tool for when you run into trouble reading Chinese online. Get the meaning of individual words or sentences in real time as you are reading online. While you can translate entire pages, you will quickly notice the translations are less than perfect.
Cost: Free with in-app purchase options
Platforms: App Store, Google Play
Do you ever find yourself reading Chinese text and come across a tough character you get stuck on? CamDictionary might be able to help. This app allows you to take a picture of a character to find the meaning instantly. While it doesn’t work 100% of the time with strange fonts, it’s a great tool to have in your pocket for homework or reading in general. If you only use a couple searches a day, the free limited version should be enough to get you by. If you find you are using it more frequently, you can purchase unlimited searches for a couple dollars.
Platform: Apple and Android Products
Although this isn’t exactly an app, this smartphone language feature is one not everyone is aware of. Whether you are just starting to learn Chinese or you are an expert, being able to write and type in Chinese on your phone is crucial. In addition to communicating with friends and family in Chinese, this feature makes looking up unknown words and characters much easier. Along with the ability to type out the pinyin for characters, most software also allows you to draw in characters in the event you don’t know how to pronounce them. In both Apple and Android devices, just go to the Languages and Keyboards section of your settings, and add in the language and the options you would like to use, such as simplified, traditional, pinyin or drawing.
Platforms: Web, App Store and Google Play
Skritter is another great resource for those learning Chinese. With a large focus on writing, reading and tones, Skritter enhances essential skills needed to learn Chinese quickly and efficiently. Although this service comes with a steep price tag, they boast an impressive amount of features and support, which includes a money-back guarantee. Try a free demo of the service to see if it is right for you. Cater the software to your skills and preferences when you sign up for an account to get the most out of your purchase.
Platforms: App Store and Google Play
One of the hardest parts about learning a new language is getting motivated to put in the time in effort. ChineseSkill helps this by using games and activities to help you learn. Choose either simplified or traditional characters and take off! Enhance your character writing, vocabulary and pronunciation while playing games on your phone. With such a high rating, you know the app is not only fun to use, but educational as well!
Platforms: App Store, Google Play
Anki is a flashcard and quiz based service that allows you to keep track of what you know and what you need to work on. While other services, such as Pleco, also contain similar features, Anki software is flexible, allowing you to add exactly what you do and don’t want on your list. This is an ideal tool for someone enrolled in courses or studying for an upcoming exam. Check out AnkiWeb for lists, quizzes and flashcards that former users have already put together.
LearnChinese Phrasebook by CodeAgent
Cost: Free for basic
Platforms: App Store, Amazon App Store, Google Play and Windows Phone Store
Single word dictionaries are very useful, but if you will be traveling to a Chinese speaking country, you may need a little bit more. The LearnChinese Phrasebook by CodeAgent provides useful and common phrases. The App provides characters, tones and pronunciation for whatever phrases you may need. The basic version will get you through most scenarios such as introducing yourself and transportation, but you can also purchase the pro version for expanded topics.
If you are looking for a service with range of tools to learn Chinese, but don’t want to pay expensive costs for other services, you might want to look into Popup Chinese. The website contains videos, podcasts, stories and other media content that you can download and take with you. A community forum allows you to ask questions, and a tests and tools section allows you to test yourself and track your progress. Popup Chinese not only allows you to choose between simplified and traditional characters, but also has an option for learning Cantonese as well.
Hopefully these apps can help you on your journey to mastering the Chinese language. Tell us, which one will you try first?
- How Small, Informal Classes Make It Easier to Learn a Language April 5, 2018
- College in Mainland China and the U.S.A: A Brief Comparison May 23, 2017
- Table Manners in China April 26, 2017
- Do You Need to Learn Chinese for Your Career? September 27, 2016
- Why Learn Chinese? March 23, 2016