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400 Million Chinese Cannot Speak Mandarin

timothy posted about a year ago | from the they-didn't-go-with-the-english-only-option? dept.

China 562

dryriver writes with this excerpt from a thought-provoking report at the BBC: "China's Education Ministry says that about 400 million people — or 30% of the population — cannot speak the country's national language. Of the 70% of the population who can speak Mandarin, many do not do it well enough, a ministry spokeswoman told Xinhua news agency on Thursday. The admission from officials came as the government launched another push for linguistic unity in China. China is home to thousands of dialects and several minority languages. These include Cantonese and Hokkien, which enjoy strong regional support. Mandarin — formally called Putonghua in China, meaning 'common tongue' — is one of the most widely-spoken languages in the world. The Education Ministry spokeswoman said the push would be focusing on the countryside and areas with ethnic minorities."

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Why don't they just learn English? (0, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786157)

USA! USA! USA!

Re:Why don't they just learn English? (0)

scum-e-bag (211846) | about a year ago | (#44786213)

The sun never sets on the British Empire. ;)

Re:Why don't they just learn English? (3, Funny)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786317)

Because even God does not trust those bastards in the dark.

Re:Why don't they just learn Ebonics? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786351)

A *black person* in a community could be an asset to that community.

A lot of *black people* in a community means the biggest detriment a community or neighborhood can possibly suffer. With them comes rampant theft, violence, gangsta culture, graffiti, fearing for your safety, drug abuse, fatherless children, declineing property values, skyrocketing costs of law enforcement and social services, and those who produce and contribute the most are the ones most able to get out and go someplace else.

When lots of blacks start showing up in your neighborhood the smart person gets the fuck out of dodge. You know why? Smart people don't care about political correctness, about proving how not-racist and egalitarian they are, etc. No. Those are the koolaid for the dumb masses to drink. Smart people care about reality. They make decisions for them and their families based on observable predictable repeating patterns of reality. If every time a mountain released smoke and had earthquakes there was a terrible volcanic eruption, and you live near a mountain, and it starts doing this, you get the fuck out. Not because you hate the mountain, not because you think it is inferior to other mountains, not because you don't like its color. No, you get the fuck out because you don't want to be buried in a pyroclastic flow. Because that is the reality. It is the same way when lots of blacks move in. It is nothing personal.

I have no idea if blacks are the harbingers of doom for a neighborhood because they are genetically inferior. A racist would say yes, that is why - the belief that a race is genetically superior to another is the very definition of racism after all. Someone else may say it is because of their culture of violence, because of the way black children who study are beaten up by other black children for "acting white". Yet somebody else might say it is because they are broken by slavery 100 years ago and full of hate and never recovered. It doesn't matter really. It is academic. All I know is when blacks ever started eyeballing my neighborhood, me and my family are getting out. That is reality. I don't even like it, but it is reality. Maybe I don't like gravity but falling off a cliff is still a bad idea. The person who denies reality is insane.

It is not just neighborhoods of course. There are no majority-black, black-governed nations that are pleasant, stable, prosperous, peaceful, safe places to live in. Even in the case of Haiti, a prosperous and successful nation was HANDED OVER to the blacks and they were turned loose to work out their own destiny free of white interference. How much would you like to move to Haiti right now? Didn't think so.

An individual black person could be brilliant and kind and wise. Lots of blacks in a neighborhood is like lots of flies on a horse. It means the horse is dead or dying. I mean flies serve a useful niche in the environment, helping to break down matter most other creatures cannot use. Sadly I do not know of any such useful niche served by the black community at large unless you think the private prison system is inherently useful.

Re:Why don't they just learn Ebonics? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786409)

I'll just second that. There are outliers, but american blacks on average have 15-20 less IQ points than whites (who have 5 less than Asians) and that's only through having an average of 25% white admixuture. African blacks have 30 points less (70) iq.

The first to white flight also get the most money before it all goes downhill so it's the best strategy. Think the whites who got out of detroit in the 1950s regretted it in the 1970s and 1980s?

An individual black person could be brilliant and kind and wise.

A society never takes on the characteristics of its exceptions.

Re:Why don't they just learn Ebonics? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786479)

What in the hell does this have to do with the article? This has to do with a Chinese dialect, not race. It's kinda hard to even relate the article vs what you're saying because they're not even dealing with a major race issue over there.

Re:Why don't they just learn Ebonics? (1)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#44786591)

What in the hell does this have to do with the article? This has to do with a Chinese dialect, not race. It's kinda hard to even relate the article vs what you're saying because they're not even dealing with a major race issue over there.

They probably meant to post in the "Could Technology Create Modern-Day 'Leper Colonies'?" article, which demonstrates that racists aren't too bright.

Re:Why don't they just learn English? (1)

MRe_nl (306212) | about a year ago | (#44786375)

The sun never sets on the British Empire, but it's mostly cloudy with light showers ; ).

I think many countries have roughly the same percentage of people that don't speak "The Queen's English" or whatever the local equivalent of that may be, or are even unintelligible upon arrival in the capitol so to say.

Re:Why don't they just learn English? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786467)

after nearly 500 years the septic tanks still cant speak English.

Re:Why don't they just learn English? (4, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786553)

Get a Japanese toilet. Luxury models are almost self-aware at this point.

It's not just China.. (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786163)

Many people in the US can't speak English, and an overwhelming majority of our youth can't seem to do it well at all.

Re:It's not just China.. (-1)

jfdavis668 (1414919) | about a year ago | (#44786215)

But, the US isn't England.

Re:It's not just China.. (5, Interesting)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about a year ago | (#44786263)

And China isn't Mandaria. What's your point?

Re:It's not just China.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786539)

Noone in the US understands the english spoken in England. Harry Potter...God save the Queen...anyone for a spot of tea?

Re:It's not just China.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786327)

But, the US isn't England.

Yes, but England is our 52nd state right after Canada.

Re:It's not just China.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786497)

Canada isn't the 52nd state either, whether before or after England.

Re:It's not just China.. (1)

Deadstick (535032) | about a year ago | (#44786391)

Including a few on /.

Remove them (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786165)

You won't miss 400 million intractable rebels.

Cantonese is superior to mandarin (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786169)

And they don't like hokkien because they don't like the hakka people in general.

Fuck them. It's like telling US southerners that they suck for speaking with an accent.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786245)

Spoken like someone who has not realized that this is pretty common in the USA. Often a person will not be hired for a job that involves lots of client facing interaction if his accent is too bad. A rather famous tv personality Alton Brown had to learn to speak without an accent to be able to do his geek cooking show.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786445)

Which is all true, and is even reasonable. After all, how well are you going to do in the ratings if people can't understand what the heck you are saying? As a person in business, why would you put someone unintelligible in sales or other customer facing positions? Why do you think that call centers that serve the US market from other countries tend to have English classes and have people pretend to be Bob or Sally? It is normal to want to provide service in a dialect that the customer will be comfortable with.

However put these same Chinese leaders in place in the US and they would have all of the Spanish, Chinese, Cambodian, etc. speakers all learning English. That wouldn't be too bad. It has value to be able to communicate with those outside of your ethnic community for jobs, safety, etc.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (0)

MichaelSmith (789609) | about a year ago | (#44786261)

It doesn't even have a written language. It doesn't have words for many modern concepts. It can't distinguish between "mirror" and "light" for example.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

saihung (19097) | about a year ago | (#44786335)

And yet somehow people manage to have perfectly normal conversations in it. If you're going to argue that a language isn't "useful" then your dealing with pretty insurmountable evidence to the contrary when, you know, people use it.

Plus, the reason that Chinese local languages haven't developed is because they're being actively suppressed by the central government in Beijing. It's not a damned coincidence.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786435)

It doesn't even have a written language. It doesn't have words for many modern concepts. It can't distinguish between "mirror" and "light" for example.

Cantonese uses the same orthography as Mandarin excepting it has some variants of characters. The rest of this stuff is just plain wrong.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (5, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786613)

What reason do you have to make up stuff? Mirror is min ken and light has a lot of words depending iif you mean not heavy, or light in color, or bring me a light, to alight, to light up. Or if you are not making this up, your Cantonese teacher cheated you.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

PhamNguyen (2695929) | about a year ago | (#44786277)

Funny how people who are bigoted against Chinese always project their biggotry.

Hokkien is not Mandarin with an accent, it's more comarable with Pennsylvania Dutch. A native English speaker can understand a strong Southern accent with effort. Mandarin, Cantonese and Hokkien (and Taiwanese and Shanghaiese for that matter) are not mutually intelligible at all. I would suggest you work on improving your tiny knowledge of China if you are going to speak on this issue, and examine your own prejudices rather than accuse other people.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786301)

There are some southern accents with no amount of effort can I understand. Deep Georgia is one. They say specific as pacific, well becomes whale and on and on it goes. It would take as long as learning a new language for me to learn that.

To the rest of you comment, I have no idea. I don't how to say much of anything in any Chinese language.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (2)

PhamNguyen (2695929) | about a year ago | (#44786419)

While there might be cases where the accent can't be understood, this is fairly rare. And I think you would learn to understand the accent a lot faster than you imagine. China on the other hand has five main groups of dialects (and this isn't counting "ethnic minorities") none of which are mutually intelligible at all.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786533)

I lived there for 4 years in my youth, this was after living for 4 years in Alabama. Even then I regularly ran across people who I simply could not understand.

Last year I was speaking to dell tech support about a server that needed some parts and as I could not understand the CSR I asked for a native english speaker. He then slightly more clearly yelled something about Georgia, I am assuming he was in that state. He did eventually transfer me to someone I could understand.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

siride (974284) | about a year ago | (#44786421)

But even the thickest of southern accents are still English, with pretty the same grammar and vocabulary, and even a lot of pronunciation in common ("well" and "whale" are close, but not the same, however, "well" and "wohl" [the German equivalent] are quite differently pronounced and also have somewhat divergent meanings). What people often fail to understand about Chinese dialects is that they are actually separate languages, and usually only called dialects because of the apparent cultural and political unity of China. As the saying goes: "a language is a dialect with an army and a navy".

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786489)

Pacific and Specific do not even start with the same letters. Well and whale is easy compared to some changes.

I understand that fine, German my first language is like that. I cannot understand some old northerners.
Bavarian German has whole other words, as another example.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (2)

siride (974284) | about a year ago | (#44786565)

Dropping the "s" off "specific" does not mean the accent is an entirely different language. Do the people in Germany who say "is'" instead of "ist" speak a different language just because of that? No.

It's true that there are many vowel changes, but it's not usually more different than, say, the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Northern_cities_vowel_shift), but I'd imagine you're more likely to have heard people speak with that accent than with the backwoods southern one, due to greater media presence of speakers of the former.

Regarding old northerners in Germany, they *do* truly speak a different language: low German, which is more closely related to English and Dutch than standard High German. The big difference between low and high German dialects is the presence or lack of the second High German consonant shift. Low German dialects (using Dutch as an example) will have "ik", "maken", "appel", "hopen", "tidj", etc., while High German has "ich", "machen", "apfel", "hoffen", "zeit", etc. Here's the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_German_consonant_shift [wikipedia.org] . As you might imagine, this is a much bigger difference than accents in the US. As a native of the US, I've never been completely unable to understand someone's accent, though I can, of course, have some initial difficulty.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786595)

Dropping the S from specific does not sound at all like pacific, any more than any other two rhyming words. It was a simple example. For me the worst is when they run all their words together. Old northerners in Germany often sound like they are doing that too.

When something becomes a dialect vs another language seems a bit like selecting where colors change in a rainbow.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786519)

So you're saying you can't understand them, yet you list the explanations for what they're saying. Maybe you have some sort of neurological issue that can manage to not make the first item resolved by the second one. Non-native speakers of other languages pretty commonly have to consciously translate what the other person is saying; it is not that difficult, much less impossible.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (3, Interesting)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786547)

I lived there 4 years and during that time learned some small amount of it. I can understand some of it, like those translations I listed. Knowing 50% of the words in a sentence does not always mean you can understand a sentence.

I speak more than one language, and am aware of what you mean. Switching between them takes work. No amount of work so far has let me understand some southern accents.

Re: Cantonese is superior to mandarin (4, Interesting)

Jonavin (71006) | about a year ago | (#44786567)

It's not just an accent. My surname is Wu in mandarin, Ng in cantonese and pronounced Go or No in other dialects.

Re: Cantonese is superior to mandarin (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786609)

I get that. I was merely complaining about the GPs claim.

I should have made that more clear. I have relatives by marriage that are Chinese. One attempted to speak to me in one language, when I did not understand he became louder and spoke in another Chinese language, at that point his wife laughed at him and translated to English.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (1)

houghi (78078) | about a year ago | (#44786605)

Pennsylvania Dutch

wich is German and not Dutch. More about that right here [youtube.com]

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786629)

It is most assuredly not modern German any more than it is Dutch. It is low German, which is not what your typical German speaks or understands.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786397)

here we have an idiot who doesn't know the difference between hokkien(minnanese) and the hakka people.

Re:Cantonese is superior to mandarin (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786491)

Well I have to say I love it when a womans got a southern drawl, mind you I am English so for me there is no social stigma to that accent as its exotic.

and what % of the US does not speak english? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786175)

what % of the US does not speak english?

Re:and what % of the US does not speak english? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786241)

Fire up the last round of census data and see how many blacks there are. Lord only knows how the hell those people can understand each other, and it's no wonder so many of them are unemployed.

Re:and what % of the US does not speak english? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786399)

GP was modded down, but as a non-native English speaker only with considerable effort I can have some idea of what black people say (save very few exceptions, it isn't like they're physically incapable), and sometimes I really can't get more than a word or two. Australians and Texans have strong accents, but blacks are something else. I wouldn't doubt their crazy language is different enough to be considered a dialect.

Re:and what % of the US does not speak english? (4, Interesting)

siride (974284) | about a year ago | (#44786469)

It is actually a dialect, called AAVE (African American Vernacular English). It's still fairly similar to standard American, but it has some additional verb forms and new or different vocabulary. See the wiki page: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/AAVE [wikipedia.org]

Re:and what % of the US does not speak english? (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about a year ago | (#44786309)

I believe the question you want to ask is: "How much US people don't speak good English?" (No, I'm not serious.) I will never forget the time that I overheard a U.S. citizen say to a Haitian immigrant: "Man, you don't even speak no good English". Unfortunately, I am not joking. The beautifully horrible irony was that the Haitian formed a perfectly valid English sentence, albeit with an accent.

Re:and what % of the US does not speak english? (2)

tysonedwards (969693) | about a year ago | (#44786551)

No Good English is a dialect of the English language spoken by those who have previously been associated with the US Penal system.
It is named for it's ability to disguise conversation from those in a position of authority as to allow for those who understand it to speak with others without the intent of their communications being used against them.

Re:and what % of the US does not speak english? (1)

Zero__Kelvin (151819) | about a year ago | (#44786611)

I am assuming you started the trend in your post. Google doesn't seem to have received the memo.

Empire (0)

dalias (1978986) | about a year ago | (#44786177)

This is because "the country" is really an empire, not a country. Would you find it odd that people in places under the US's imperial control (either formally or informally) don't always speak English?

Re:Empire (2)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786253)

Yes, I would. American Samoa uses English as does Hawaii and most of the other locations we took over via imperialist type stuff. The only one I can think of that does not would be Puerto Rico. All major countries could be considered empires.

Re:Empire (1)

Trax3001BBS (2368736) | about a year ago | (#44786607)

This is because "the country" is really an empire, not a country. Would you find it odd that people in places under the US's imperial control (either formally or informally) don't always speak English?

I don't know if it counts but the Philippines. -It used to be under US control formally if for only a little while, informally a long time.

They have the same problem China does and it's a smaller area, The most spoken language is Tagalog and even then
so many distance regional differences many can't talk to each other.

That's the way it was when I lived there; hitting the wikipedia it's much worse than I thought, as Tagalog has been replaced
with Filipino and English

Official status
Filipino is constitutionally designated as the national language of the Philippines and, along with English, one of two official languages.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Filipino_language [wikipedia.org]

Make it easier (4, Insightful)

Clsid (564627) | about a year ago | (#44786183)

Maybe if the language wasn't so difficult it would see more widespread adoption. I honestly believe that the Chinese should switch to some sort of romanization like pinyin, even if it does not have100% of what the Chinese characters provide. I understand the heritage and cultural proudness of having your own characters, but that way you still keep your language, and second you don't waste vauable time thhat can be used to learn something else. Chinese atm is like a legacy programming language with lots of ancient functions that can make the code messy. Learning the radicals, stroke sequences and others on top of all the tones is absurd to me.

But hey, if somebody can make a counterpoint I will be happy to debate.

Re:Make it easier (3, Informative)

CRCulver (715279) | about a year ago | (#44786225)

Maybe if the language wasn't so difficult it would see more widespread adoption. I honestly believe that the Chinese should switch to some sort of romanization like pinyin,

The people mentioned in the article learn how to read characters, they simply ascribe the characters the phonetic value of their own dialect/language as opposed to the phonetic value that Mandarin peoples ascribe to them. Your argument against the Chinese writing system is in the wrong place here.

Re:Make it easier (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786227)

But hey, if somebody can make a counterpoint I will be happy to debate.

Different charactersets have no intrinsic "betterness" than others. This includes Roman characters.

But, thanks for trying. I won't say it was a GOOD troll, but it was an... attempt. Yeah, that's the ticket.

Re:Make it easier (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786267)

You think there is no objective way to compare written languages? Really?

Re:Make it easier (4, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44786401)

There isn't really. The alphabet that's used in Europe is faster to learn than the character set of Chinese characters. But, the Chinese characters each convey far more meaning than a set of words would.

There are pros and cons here, the alphabet is faster to learn to read and write, but it's less efficient to read. Whereas Chinese takes years to learn to read and write, but is substantially more efficient for reading.

My main issue with written Chinese is that they haven't adopted Western style word spacing. Which means that you have to recognize when the words start and stop, which is quite difficult for beginners and those that have poor literacy skills. 90% or so of the time it's the longest possible word containing the characters, but that still leaves about 10% of the time where some of the characters could belong to either of the words.

Still, it's a far more efficient writing system to read than English is.

Re:Make it easier (0)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786509)

Which is not what I said at all. I merely suggested there were objective measures. You can for yourself decide how to define better.

Re:Make it easier (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#44786523)

sure they have.

there's inherent value in having different characters for different sounds so you don't have to second guess if it's kolor, solor or color.. written english with latin alphabet isn't particularly good at it but it's at least ok, but a set where you have different characters for large combinations of sounds - words - are insane for everyday living. the chinese writing system was never meant to be used for peasants in their everyday affairs though...

there's value in limiting it to reasonable number of characters, making it easier to learn to read and to write. it's very easy to reason that some character sets are therefore better(more practical) than others, by value of having just the right amount and not too few or too many characters. languages which were late to the writing game tend to look like they came up on top. english for example does have sounds for à and à - but you can't know from reading the word if you should use those sounds, you just have to know it from somewhere else or from a phonetic description of the word, which is pretty stupid if you think about it, the dictionary has to have the word written out two times, the phonetic instruction and the written form separately.

the more you need to just know beforehand to be able to read the worse the character set is, I know from the word "character" roughly how it's spelled but if it was just some one symbol for the whole word I would have hard time even asking someone how it's supposed to be said and what the fuck does it mean...

a palindrom for the end: saippuakauppias

Re:Make it easier (2)

K. S. Kyosuke (729550) | about a year ago | (#44786299)

Maybe if the language wasn't so difficult it would see more widespread adoption.

Save for tones, which come natural to child learners anyway, there's nothing intrinsically difficult about the Chinese language. Please note that script and language are two different things - and apparently, this problem has nothing to do with writing (you may have noticed the phrase "cannot speak" if you read the fine summary. I hope I'm not asking for too much here!)

Re:Make it easier (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786411)

Maybe if the language wasn't so difficult it would see more widespread adoption.

Save for tones, which come natural to child learners anyway, there's nothing intrinsically difficult about the Chinese language. Please note that script and language are two different things - and apparently, this problem has nothing to do with writing (you may have noticed the phrase "cannot speak" if you read the fine summary. I hope I'm not asking for too much here!)

yea but the ching-chang-chong weird sounds they make just sound strange.

maybe asian immigrants barely fresh off the boat consistently outperform blacks on IQ and other intelligence tests because just reading their script takes so much thinking.

course we are used to blacks always being the bottom of the barrell. we have lots of preformatted readymade excuses for how they consistently underperform on any objective test yet are our true total 100% equals in every single way. slavery even thouhg it ended 150 years ago, even though everyone else has ancestors who were slaves too, blacks get a pass because of that. jim crow and the like even though the jews faced much worse gov't persecution and the jews don't consistently underperform on IQ and other tests, blacks get a pass because of that. poverty even though the american indians had it at least as bad as the blacks but american indians dont consistently underperform on IQ and other tests, blacks get a pass cause of that.

anybody else ever think the reason we have race relations problems is due to nobody really having the balls to be honest about it? just lie after PC lie and nothing ever changes. hey at least ppl like Jesse Jackson can always make a living and Democrats can always get elected right?

Re:Make it easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786303)

Romanization would cause a lot of issues as there are lots of words that have very similar pronunciation but very different meanings. It is even worse than "then" vs "than", "bake" vs "brake" vs "break". etc. Interestingly machine translation from Chinese to English works a lot better without Romanization as it doesn't have to guess what word it is based on the sentence context vs Romanized Japanese to English .

Beside the written language is not the issue as it has been common for a long long long time. It is not like the communist (1940's??) didn't introduce the "simplified" Chinese (vs Traditional that is in use in part of the world) hasn't fragmented the language enough already. Introducing yet another way of writing the same to it would be even worst.

The spoken part of it is the real problem they are trying to address.

In the other extreme, we have politician that alternates between English on every fourth sentences and it make it hard even for the translator/audio switch person to jump in at the right time to follow. :P

Re:Make it easier (4, Interesting)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44786415)

The main issue with translating Chinese characters is that traditionally there are no separations made between words, so the computer has to guess at where the word boundaries are. But, yes, the computer will do better with characters than with pinyin, but really this is an area which is still largely a mess.

Re:Make it easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786621)

I have look at Chinese to English translator and in general it does a lot better than from Japanese (with pinyin) to English. The unique character set has precise mapping to English words where as pinyin the computer would have to guess which of the list of word (with totally different meanings) is actually used in the context.

Word separation isn't that much of a big deal for computers anyway if you start at the beginning of a sentence and do match the compound words. It is just a case of like variable length search where you pick the longest string that can match. For a computer, it is easy to have a larger list of word than even a native speaker would have.

P.S. Cantonese is my first language. I mostly speak English these day and at one point I google translate a lot of Japanese words for reading manga.

Re:Make it easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786457)

This is just another drop in a big heavy bucket full of reasons why the Japanese are superior to the Chinese and more civilized than them in every single possible way.

No really the Japanese make most of the rest of the world look like a bunch of barbarians. Including Americans. Maybe especially Americans. Foreign nationals in their native countries don't have to worry about the Japanese tapping their phones and reading their emails.

Re:Make it easier (4, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44786377)

As somebody who spent a year living in the PRC, I went in wondering the same thing. But the fact of the matter is that their are so many homophones that they would need to invent a new language just to make it work.

The radicals and tones are an essential portion of the language, removing them would be like taking English words and removing the spaces and punctuation marks. It would turn it into a mess.

The radicals themselves are essential to learning to read and write the Chinese language. Romanization systems don't work because there are too many homophones to worry about. And what's more there are hundreds of different Chinese languages out there whose only point of intersection is the written language. Removing that would require teaching 600m or so people a new language and nearly 1.5b people to read and write in a new language.

Stroke order isn't quite as silly as you make it out to be, the stroke order is like it is primarily because you draw the radicals in a certain way, and when those radicals are put into a character they retain their order. This cuts down on the amount of time and energy that it takes to learn to write.

As far as legacy goes, Chinese is far easier than you seem to recognize. Sure, learning the characters is a PITA, but it's not hard, it's just a lot of work. And it's held up remarkably well for millenia. The grammar is simple enough as well.

As far as "the language" goes, Mandarin is just a voice given to silent characters. It's not any easier or harder than any other Chinese language. It has 5 tones, which in some ways is easier than some with more tones, but it means that you spend more time and energy determining which homophone you're dealing with.

Re:Make it easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786417)

shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.
shi shi shi shi shi, shi shi shi shi shi.

yep, this is what you want to see.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lion-Eating_Poet_in_the_Stone_Den

Re:Make it easier (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | about a year ago | (#44786473)

" I understand the heritage and cultural proudness of having your own characters"

I suspect that that's part of the problem; but in a way that the Chinese government is (fairly sensibly) spinning as an 'Oh, gosh, look at the need for educational improvements!' problem: How many of the 400 million non-Mandarin speakers are just really-badly-educated speakers, and how many are speaking-something-other-than-Mandarin-just-fine-thanks?

It isn't exactly news that China is less homogeneous than Beijing would prefer, and includes a number of both ethnic and linguistic groups that aren't entirely fuzzy toward the capital.

Re:Make it easier (2)

Alan R Light (1277886) | about a year ago | (#44786569)

From what I've heard the Chinese have been using Roman letters to help their students learn their own language for years now, and especially use roman letters to make it easier to enter Chinese text into a computer.

But there are still good reasons to use their traditional characters - including the fact that although China has many spoken languages, the use of characters allows most of them to share a single written form.

Re:Make it easier (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786601)

Yeah and what's with english and their silent letters and random spelling rules.. i after e except after c .. sometimes y and sometimes u ? and multiple words with the same spelling, but prononunced differently ..... ie .Excuse; Please excuse me while I think of an excuse.
Polish; Tell the Polish cleaners to polish the floor.
Minute; The button was so minute that it was a minute before I found it.
Wind; Hopefully the wind will be strong enough to wind the windmill.
Record; It's the referee's job to record the new world record.
Live; I live in a city where we can see live nudes.

Oops (0)

Ed The Meek (3026569) | about a year ago | (#44786193)

I wonder how many "Americans" can only speak Spanish?

Re: Oops (1)

Ed The Meek (3026569) | about a year ago | (#44786259)

Also, I don't imagine all of the former Soviet Union spoke Russian, or did they?

Re: Oops (1)

xaxa (988988) | about a year ago | (#44786413)

Also, I don't imagine all of the former Soviet Union spoke Russian, or did they?

No. It was more common, and taught in schools, but not universally known.

If you travel round Eastern Europe you will find old people often know German or Russian, younger people learn English.

Re:Oops (3)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786281)

Why would you use quotes for that?
Do you not consider non-English speakers to be American? I do not believe citizenship requires it. Immigrants must pass a test that I bet you would not.

Re:Oops (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786431)

Why would you use quotes for that? Do you not consider non-English speakers to be American? I do not believe citizenship requires it. Immigrants must pass a test that I bet you would not.

Isn't it obvious? It should be. Somebody living in Brazil is an "American", just South America not North America. We just connote that "American" means "in the United States of America".

Challenging him to pass a test while congratulating yourself for setting him straight (laugh) doesn't make up for missing the obvious, now does it?

Re:Oops (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786501)

In English the word american means someone from the USA. What language are we conversing in?

If we were speaking in Portuguese you might have a point.

Well, yes. (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#44786199)

The government in Beijing has been trying to convert the Cantonese-speaking part of the country (which includes Hong Kong) to Mandarin since Mao's day, without much success. Due to development, internal migration, improved transportation and communications, and pressure from the central government, Mandarin is finally displacing Cantonese in some areas. Shenzhen, the high-tech region near Hong Kong, was mostly using Cantonese two decades ago, but is now mostly Mandarin.

Re:Well, yes. (1)

PhamNguyen (2695929) | about a year ago | (#44786319)

This article is addressing a slightly different issue, since it is talking about people who cannot speak Mandarin, not people who can speak it but choose to use their local dialect in public. E.g. all university educated people can speak Mandarin. As the summary states, this is mainly an issue relating to people in rural areas with less education.

Re:Well, yes. (2)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44786429)

I used to live a couple hours from there, and it's the only part of China where I would routinely run into people that couldn't speak any Chinese. The local Cantonese is still very strong there, which makes it difficult for those that don't speak Cantonese and can't read and write.

Hong Kong was even worse because if they didn't speak English, they probably wouldn't speak Mandarin and the writing system in use is mainly traditional Chinese rather than the simplified system in use in the PRC.

My Chinese isn't particularly good, but in most of China it was good enough to order food and conduct basic business.

'learn chinese' (5, Interesting)

globaljustin (574257) | about a year ago | (#44786209)

I remember very recently there was a sort of "learn Chinese" fad going around...

It was usually some techie MBA type...

OH at the watercooler: "oh yeah, I'm learning Chinese...yeah for sure...it's all China man...it is the next superpower"

Or yuppie parents...

"yes we have jonny and suzy both in Mandarin classes twice a week..."

I taught English in Korea in 2002 (world cup woo hoo) and had several friends who did the same in China, Japan, and Thailand.

The idea that learning Chinese would ever be anyone's idea of a smart thing for business or education in the 21st Century **baffled** me when I first read it (probably a Friedman article)...

This kind of bears it out in numbers...

400 million **don't even speak it in their own country**

It's English...for better or worse international business and science is conducted in English.

Same was true when I studied at Telecom Bretagne in France in 2009...in the computer lab all the Moroccans, Russians, Germans, Itialians, Chinese, Japanese, and yes French students spoke English.

Chinese is fine. If you want a challenge go for it...but don't do it thinking it'll be a good business investment or learning tool for a child...if that's what you want you'll just end with torture ;)

Re:'learn chinese' (2)

93 Escort Wagon (326346) | about a year ago | (#44786347)

I remember very recently there was a sort of "learn Chinese" fad going around...

It was usually some techie MBA type...

Probably Firefly fans.

Re:'learn chinese' (2)

Kjella (173770) | about a year ago | (#44786395)

Well if you want business relations with China speaking Mandarin is as useful as speaking Spanish in Mexico, you'll find English speakers but only where they expect foreigners. Even here in Norway with 90%+ English speakers and a massive amount of language training through non-dubbed series and movies it's only in some international businesses everyone can seamlessly switch to English. Everyone where I work now could probably hold a basic conversation in English but many would be severely impeded and would much rather talk their native language if the other party was fluent in that. OTOH I'd say you're aiming below the "international business" level where people would be expected to speak English, you're more of a middle manager talking to a Mandarin-only middle manager about whatever business your respective bosses have agreed on - in English.

Re:'learn chinese' (1)

globaljustin (574257) | about a year ago | (#44786575)

Howdy Mr. Norway, interesting thoughts.

I was a bit baffled by this:

OTOH I'd say you're aiming below the "international business" level where people would be expected to speak English

and your point about middle managers...could you maybe explain it a different way?

also, I'd like to hear more of your evidence for this statement:

business relations with China speaking Mandarin is as useful as speaking Spanish in Mexico

Is this from your experience in *both* China and Mexico?

Seeing as you are Norwegian, I'm inclined to think you have not been to both countries. If you have, and my assumption is incorrect, let me know.

See, I *do* have experience in Mexico and my Asian experience I mentioned above.

You are correct when you say this:

you'll find English speakers but only where they expect foreigners

Right.

No one would expect otherwise.

I made no distinction between 'speaking English' 'using English for Business' and

everyone can seamlessly switch to English

That is a distinction you made, not me.

It seems you are offering some kind of counterpoint to my contention, I just honestly can't identify what it is.

You agree with my point about Chinese and English...I'm not sure what you are saying...

Re:'learn chinese' (3, Informative)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44786477)

Those 400m people are mostly in rural areas. Legally all schools are supposed to be conducted in Mandarin, although exceptions are made for foreign language schools as Beijing is keen on having people learn foreign languages.

But, the difficulty level is pretty low. Of the languages I've studied, Mandarin is by far the easiest one to learn. The grammar is astonishingly simple and even the feared characters are mostly a matter of study. If you start with the radicals and skip learning individual characters in favor of whole words, its' not that tough. Most Chinese words are either one character or the newer style which are compounds of 2 or 3 of the older characters. And considering that the PRC has achieved a literacy rate over 85% it's clearly something that's doable for anybody that's willing to put in the effort and time.

Tones, do take some getting used to, but none of the tones in Mandarin are ones that we don't have in English, it's just that they use them differently than we do in English.

I don't personally think that Chinese is likely to be mandatory, however, it is going to be increasingly useful in coming years. Especially the written form that tends to scare people away. But, after a year of looking at them in China, I found after a while that there's a pattern to them, and whenever I see simplified Chinese characters, I get a warm fuzzy feeling that everything is going to be OK.

Re:'learn chinese' (1)

ctk76 (531418) | about a year ago | (#44786561)

"It's English...for better or worse international business.."
As long as English speakers are the CUSTOMERS. The underlying assumption is that the Chinese will always be the sellers and some English speaker the buyer.

Re:'learn chinese' (2)

Art Challenor (2621733) | about a year ago | (#44786597)

I never thought I'd say this, but I suspect that the MBA's are correct. Yes, lots of international business is transacted in English. I've been in meetings in non-English speaking countries where all the participants spoke English fluently.

Yet, all other things being equal, if they could buy from someone who spoke their native language, they would. With the exception of truely multi-lingual people, generally people who grew up speaking two or more languages, you'll always be more comfortable in your mother tongue.

Business versus Government (1)

wrackspurt (3028771) | about a year ago | (#44786211)

Some Chinese guys I did some work for said Cantonese is for business and Mandarin is for government. I was told just about all business is transacted in Cantonese.

Re:Business versus Government (1)

hedwards (940851) | about a year ago | (#44786481)

AFAIK only in Guangdong and Hong Kong, outside of those regions, nobody uses Cantonese, at least not that I heard. Most business will be done in either the local language or Mandarin.

Of those 400M, how many people live in rural areas (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786293)

Away from the cities?

How many speak English? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786331)

In India, English has more or less usurped the position as national exchange language, a role that Hindi was supposed to fill.

Re:How many speak English? (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786633)

Now, if only we can get the Indians to speak a version of English that the rest of the world could understand. Seriously, talking to some tour operators in central Turkey, I was told that they didn't have much trouble understanding English-speakers from around the world. Americans, British, Australians, Japanese, Chinese, Russians, Latin Americans, Africans - anyone who spoke English they could understand. Except Indians.

In the US (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786343)

Anyone who advocated a national language and tried to institute the teaching of the language would be called racist.

But, in China, it is considered a good thing to educate the population to speak the national language... I'm sure it is believed that the children who can speak the common language will probably be able to do better (financially / quality of life) if they can interact with the majority of the country....
This then would have the effect of raising the overall standard of living of the entire country...

How dare those Chinese do something so blatantly racist...

NOTE: this is not a joke... It is a sad truth in the US today!!!

Re:In the US (1)

h4rr4r (612664) | about a year ago | (#44786355)

It is not a sad truth and not all of China wants to convert to one language or this article would not exist.

The USA is great because it is a melting pot, not because we are uniform and unbending.

Re:In the US (3, Interesting)

causality (777677) | about a year ago | (#44786527)

Anyone who advocated a national language and tried to institute the teaching of the language would be called racist.

That's hilarious because a non-racist would assume that all races are equally able to learn, read, and speak a national language. The person claiming a national language is "racist" is implying that some races are less able than others to cope with such a change, which is itself a racist belief. It is amazing to me the way this is so often glossed over and not pointed out.

This then would have the effect of raising the overall standard of living of the entire country...

I don't know about all of that, but being able to understand one another because there is a standard is how you maintain a nation long-term, without having it spilt into factions of people who see each other as different from the rest, only to become Balkanized over time.

NOTE: this is not a joke... It is a sad truth in the US today!!!

Another sad truth: political power is gained and expanded by dividing people, not by uniting them. The extreme hypersensitivity encouraged by identity politics and the obsession with group identity has two major effects. One, it encourages emotional, irrational thinking which helps prevent the sort of attention and scrutiny those in power don't want. Two, it produces division and squabbling over matters that by design cannot be resolved, creating much distraction, wasting much energy, and most of all allowing politicians to keep (and expand) power by promising to protect each group from all of the others. It's classic divide-and-conquer.

Inventing "racists" where they do not actually exist is never going to lead to the sort of color-blind society that judges people by the content of their character. "I want to be the white man's brother, not his brother-in-law", Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Know this is about Speaking (1)

rolfwind (528248) | about a year ago | (#44786381)

But one of the things I stumbled upon trying to learn some asian languages is the logographic writing. Unlike our alphabet, where you can sound it out, in logographic systems you either know the 1 of many thousands of symbols or you don't. Which is why in Japanese writing, particularly geared for younger folk, the more advanced kanji (for that age group) usually has kana (a type of phonographic alphabet) over the Kanji, so they can sound out the words. Don't know how it works in Chinese.

Anyway, a long while back I was watching what I thought was a Jackie Chan movie as touted by Redbox "Looking for Jackie" which was really just a few minutes of him and a story of a 15y/o circa 10th grader idolizing him and trying to find him. The kid had "bad" grades, particularly in Chinese, bad here being Cs. It was essentially an afterschool special for kids. Anyway, one scene in the movie was that he was in a city and some tourist asked him to read a name off a map and he couldn't do it or any of the names in fact.

Idk how realistic that is, but it made me question the writing systems of the country that a 10th grader with "bad" grades had problems I think no 5th grader with normal grades would have. Growing up, my reading reinforced my writing and my speaking. I'm sure without it, I would be relegated to speak as badly as some of the people around me, which in a big country, especially in rural area, probably would decline quickly to some backwood dialect.

In fact, I think the communists in the 1960-1970s toyed with the idea of dropping the traditionally written language in favor of romanization as an official reform but it never quite got the push it needed.

Mandrin? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786385)

If 400 million Chinese citizens of the People's Republic of China (Zhnghuá Rénmín Gònghéguó) cannot speak Mandrin flulently, do they speak another language to communicate? Cantonese, Hokkien, Uyghur, Mongolian, Tibetan, Zhuang? Just wondering.

Re:Mandrin? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786465)

No, they make do with hand signals. What do you think?

Phew -- make me feel better (1)

InfiniteLoopCounter (1355173) | about a year ago | (#44786433)

I learned some Chinese in high school and even won an inter-school award for "excellence", but I could not even hold a conversation. This makes me feel a lot better about my lack of Chinese speaking skills after devoting some years to it.

Re:Phew -- make me feel better (1)

wrackspurt (3028771) | about a year ago | (#44786573)

By the onset of puberty (around age 12), language acquisition [wikipedia.org] has typically been solidified and it becomes more difficult to learn a language in the same way a native speaker would.

It seems children are open to learning languages from a very early age. There doesn't seem to be a low limit on the number of languages an infant can acquire. Given the benefits of speaking a second language and how effortlessly children seem to acquire second languages it seems like throwing away a birthright not to have a child acquire at least a second language. It carries many benefits and seems to be one of those things that look good on a resume.

The real reason. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#44786557)

From the fine article:

"In 2010, there were protests in Tibet about the use of Mandarin in schools. At the time, protesters said it was eroding their culture and language."

Am I the only one that remembers the four "surfaces" from the "culture polyhedron" from Anthropology 101?
- Language - Behavior - History - Religion

It's the same idea as the "fire polyhedron": - Heat - Fuel - Oxidizer - Ignition Source.

Remove one, and the whole thing collapses.

And China is not the only nation using 1984 as a users manual.

same written language means not every has to or wa (3)

Jonavin (71006) | about a year ago | (#44786589)

A decade ago I visited my adult cousines in Guang Dong province and they barely spoke any mandarin. There was no need to. Local TV/radio was readily in Cantonese and they could read all national documents written in Chinese.

Situations have changed since there's more business dealings with those outside their province so they have since learned to speak mandarin fluently.

I imagine they treat the need to learn Mandarin in the same way Quebecois have to learn English.

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