It’s no surprise to anyone that English is the world’s closest international language. If a Japanese person and a Korean person meet on the street, they might prefer to use English, which is non-native to both speakers.
Given all the hype about China recently, and just the sheer SIZE of the Chinese speaking world in terms of population, do any of you ever think it will compete, or even replace English as an international language?
My personal opinion is no. . . Not unless China starts takin’ shit over, and builds empires and colonies the size of the old British Empire, or the current American Empire
–If this is the wrong forum, please feel free to move it–
There is no pressing need to replace English right now and China still doesn’t have much cultural influence. Also, the writing system would make it really unwieldy as an international language. It takes a very long time to learn to write, even for native speakers who use it as the medium of instruction in school. It’s nowhere near as user friendly as an international language in that respect.
Good point. During the Cold War, everybody (in the US) was worried about Russia. In the 80’s, they were freaking out that Japan was going to overtake the US. Did either of those happen? No. Now you hear the same kinds of hype and anxieties about China. Being the skeptic I am, I don’t give them too much credit.
After Spanish replaces English as the mother tongue of most US citizens, Spanish will eventually rival English as an international language. Chinese will fade from popularity after God smites China with a comet. So, the answer is no.
In sci-fi land, if we evolve to the point at which we require three-dimensional text, well, that might give Mandarin a leg up. By that time, maybe China will have developed sufficiently attractive cultural and economic capital.
Those who want to do business with China may choose to learn Chinese, but not as a 3rd language with which to do business with others, like English currently is used. Chinese is too difficult to learn.
The US State Department groups languages into 3 levels of difficulty, based largely on the number of hours of study it takes for MINIMAL proficiency. Granted, this estimate is for English speakers learning other languages, but it’s still relevant. For minimal proficiency, Spanish, French, Italian or Portuguese would take about 600 hours of study and German 750 hours. Chinese, on the other hand, would require 2200 hours of study for minimal proficiency.
John Yu: The economic growth of China puts it on a course to overtake the U.S. as the world’s largest economy some time between 2020 and 2030. With a population four times that of the U.S. it’s a distinct possibility.
China is unlikely to occupy the position in world affairs the U.S. has had for the past twenty years for a long time yet. However, no one, including the U.S., is likely to occupy the position in world affairs the U.S. has had for the past twenty years for a long time yet simply because the past twenty years have been a power vacuum and the U.S. being the only superpower left standing at the end of the Cold War, it became a hyperpower. What we are going to see though is a return to a world where there are several superpowers, most likely regional at that. China will certainly be a regional superpower, and its influence will almost certainly reach into areas (including some outside of Asia – look at the way countries such as the Sudan or Zimbabwe conveniently sidestep anything the West does thanks to China’s patronage) once considered the sole domain of the U.S.
Anyway, as I’ve already said, I don’t think any of this means Chinese will become the next lingua franca.
A native Chinese speaking client and I were discussing a text today and he said: “With this kind of text it would be better to write the original in English and then translate it into Chinese. Mandarin is too…fluffy”.
I suggested the word ‘ambiguous’ and we both agreed Mandarin is good for flowery, literary stuff.
I can’t see it happening in our lifetimes, or even that of our grandchildren. The language is hard to learn, too ambiguous, native speakers have a hard time understanding non-native speakers, and the written form takes years and years to get anywhere with.
English is simple, easy and spread around the world, even in areas “hostile” to the language. English adopts words and phrases from other languages, infiltrates foreign cultures and is the language of business, culture, pop-culture, music and information. Even if the highly improbable happens, i.e. some country like China goes against all odds and logical thinking to actual surpass the US economically, militarily and influentially, it still wouldn’t change a thing. Chinese still wouldn’t be able to compete with English in terms of ease of use, learning and adaptability, and such a fictitious country would also have to dominate to the point of culturally dominating Europe, North America, most of Africa, Australia, New Zealand, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka and India.
I doubt even that would happen. Spanish may very well become (if it isn’t so already) a dominant second language, but second, third and fourth generation immigrants speak English at native speaker level, even if they still speak Spanish at home. And even if the US did become a Spanish speaking country (highly unlikely IMO, for several reasons) it still wouldn’t change anything, for reasons mentioned above. And for those reasons, it would also influence the US to continue using English, with the only likely outcome for Spanish hopefuls being a Canada type situation of bilingualism.
Also, take countries like South Africa, for example. The norm is that people have a home language other than English and still speak English outside the home. Native English speakers in South Africa in which English is also the home language (people such as myself, and jimipresley I presume) are a fraction of the population. Whites form about 6-8% of the population, of which 80% speak Afrikaans at home (the remainder speaking either English, Portuguese, Italian, Greek or German). So only about 1-2% of the population actually speak English at home. However, English is still the main national language (although there are officially 11 official languages), and you would be screwed if you couldn’t speak it. It is also a compulsory subject at school, and it is the main language of instruction at most schools and universities.
The main reason for this being that English is an international language (not just the main language in the US, but a language necessary to do anything with any of our allies (be that Saudi Arabia, Australia, Brazil, Argentina, China or India), and the most useful language to learn in Africa and South Africa to communicate with people, educate yourself, read the newspaper or any of the basic tasks you would need or want to do in your daily life.
[quote=“Mr He”]In order to get a grip on if Mandarin will replace English as the global lingua franca, we need to look at the stats:
How many native English speakers are learning Chinese, versus how many native Chinese speakers are learning English.[/quote]
You would also have to consider the speakers of every language who are learning foreign languages and how many of them are learning English vs Chinese. Your model only considers interactions between English speaking countries and Chinese speaking countries. A global business language will be used by non-native speakers to communicate with each other.
Chinese speakers in some fields will always need to speak English to do their job. For instance, the international language for airlines, pilots, and controllers is English. That will never change. English is a predominant/secondary language in a huge number of countries in the world, and Chinese is not even close. Yes, 1.2 billion+ people speak it, but that is mostly at home.
English is still increasing rapidly as the international language of choice. Mandarin learning is increasing aswell but not at anywhere the same rate and the main reason is of course to do business and diplomacy with China, otherwise not much point. We’ll be stuck with English for a long time yet.
Once a universal translation device comes out we can see what happens.
Chinese speakers in some fields will always need to speak English to do their job. For instance, the international language for airlines, pilots, and controllers is English. That will never change. English is a predominant/secondary language in a huge number of countries in the world, and Chinese is not even close. Yes, 1.2 billion+ people speak it, but that is mostly at home.[/quote]
The answer is not never. Whenever another country becomes prominent enough and rules commerce it is likely that that countries language will be used instead of English. The only way that another language will not come along is if we cease to exist before another country and its commerce dominate the world. Military occupation of foreign territories would speed up the process.
People use English not only to trade with English speaking countries, but also with non-English speaking countries. Even if China’s economy were to surpass that of all the English speaking countries combined, the fact remains that the Chinese language is exceptionally time consuming to learn, especially compared to English or Spanish. I just can’t imagine 2 non-Chinese speaking countries doing business with each other in Chinese like they currently do in English.