First of all, apologies for the recent lack of updates. It is possible this will continue. Your correspondent is currently rather sick, and also in the process of packing to move back to America while looking for jobs there teaching, if you can believe it, Chinese.
Yesterday Evan Osnos mentioned in a post of his that “only eleven per cent of Americans think it is very important to learn Chinese, while eighty-two per cent of Chinese think it is very important to learn English.” This is according to surveys on foriegn policy views by the Chicago Council. For comparison, 17% of Americans think it’s very important for America to promote democracy in other countries.
As Osnos points out, there are signs that things are changing. Even during this brutal recession, some schools are creating or expanding their Chinese programs, and other schools that can’t currently afford to do so admit that they are still facing increased demand for the language. 11% is a fairly depressing number, but we can probably rest assured that it’s rising.
Personally, I wonder if one of the main problems isn’t a stubbornly widespread perception that Chinese is somehow “impossible”, especially compared to other foreign languages. Granted, it perhaps looks and sounds more intimidating than, say, French, but I wonder if some Americans would change their minds if they knew that Chinese students don’t have to memorize long tables of verb conjugations like French students do, or puzzle over complex grammar manuals.
Anyone with experience traveling knows that English is the “world” language, the default language used when two people who don’t share a common language meet. It’s possible that will change, although a shift would take many years, but does that really excuse Americans (or other Westerners) from having to learn Chinese? What do you think?