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Why People Who Make Things Should Learn Chinese 588

Posted by timothy
from the articulate-sans-articles dept.
ptorrone writes "MAKE Magazine is making that case that any 'maker' who builds, buys or creates electronics should learn (Mandarin) Chinese. MAKE outlines the resources for anyone wishing to learn the language of the soon-to-be largest economy and source of just about everything we buy in the USA."
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Why People Who Make Things Should Learn Chinese

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  • Largest economy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by the linux geek (799780) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @07:01PM (#36689296)
    What remote evidence is there that the PRC will ever be the world's largest economy? They're displaying symptoms characteristic with a bubble, and their GDP is only roughly half of that of the US. Or is massive growth going to continue forever, just like it was going to for Japan and South Korea?
  • 1980s all over again (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Bloodwine77 (913355) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @07:17PM (#36689444)

    I remember the 1980s when everybody said that you'll need to learn Japanese. In popular culture the Japanese were shown as our future overlords.

  • Re:Largest economy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @07:23PM (#36689484) Homepage

    Not that you don't bring up some good points but consider this slightly re-worded sentence you wrote;

    Everything I'm reading in English says they are dangerously close to bursting

    Some of their other infrastructure is coming in the form of high speed rail, with many parts of it functioning already. Rail links to the rest of Europe are already planned and being built. While there may be ghost cities right now, the 'plan' is to have the infrastructure in place for the hordes coming in from the rural areas, to avoid such nasty things like 'tin shack villages' and overcrowding becoming commonplace, like many other countries have experienced when population growth far exceeded the ability of local infrastructure to be built.

    I think it is hard for many westerners to really understand what is going on in many parts of China. The growth that was once limited to coastal cities, is spreading into more central locations of the country, to take advantage of the population distribution. Human rights, and pollution controls aside(and those really are BIG things to us, and rightfully so), they are absolutely doing almost a perfect job of bringing their country into a more-than-modern era.

    As far as them 'busting'. The likelihood of that happening is much smaller than it was here, or in any of the problem EU countries like greece, portugal, iceland, and italy. Why? They actually have rather sane lending policies when it comes to housing. I have been hearing the line that there is a bubble in China for just about a decade now, mainly from westerners who think that their lending practices closely match ours(they don't), and just by looking at the growth similarities, a parallel is able to be drawn to our meteoric rise, and subsequent fall(it isn't) in real estate.

    It has been about 5 years since I looked when I last heard this same 'rumor' of a bubble going around since I really looked at the financial requirements and legal framework, and I do imagine some of that has changed(possibly the restriction on second homes was lifted in that time, Im not sure), but there are a LOT of reasons why what appears to be a bubble in China, is only a buibble when looked at through the experience of western eyes. I won't say something stupid like 'it's different this time', but there are serious structural and behavioral differences that make a comparison between our two economies incredibly hard to do without spending a large portion of your waking hours immersing yourself in the differences between the frameworks of the two systems.

    End result, learn Chinese. Worst case, you expand your knowledge. Best case, you(more likely your children) don't become a slave.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Firefly_(TV_series) [wikipedia.org]

    Firefly takes place in a multi-cultural future, primarily a fusion of Occidental and Chinese cultures, where there is a significant division between the rich and poor. As a result of the Sino-American Alliance, Mandarin Chinese is a common second language; it is used in advertisements, and characters in the show frequently use Chinese words and curses. According to the DVD commentary on the episode "Serenity", this was explained as being the result of China and the United States being the two superpowers that expanded into space.

    Life imitates art, or as is often the case, sci-fi is "Future History".

  • by gstoltz (2041362) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @07:43PM (#36689652)
    Apropos Scifi. Philip K. Dick`s novels are turned into movies. John Brunners books are turned into reality. (Its a misquote, but heck, it works.) Other than that, i`d say that nothing is closer to truth about the world than old Frederick Pohl/Cyril Kornbluth novels. But i try to be strange. My working strategy is to view scifi as contemporary, not futuristic. Whatever was conceptualizable when the writers wrote it was also happening then, maybe they didn`t notice, yet they did.
  • by Tumbleweed (3706) * on Thursday July 07, 2011 @07:57PM (#36689754)

    Ha, too late!

  • Re:Largest economy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @07:59PM (#36689764) Homepage

    In a way, the US is. China has the ability to artificially peg is currency in a way that is more beneficial to them, than it is to the people lending them money. No other major world economy enjoys this benefit, and they are taking full advantage of it.

    As to the problem of empty buildings, many of the empty buildings are nothing more than concrete shells waiting to have the final build out done. The manpower needed to clean any needed upkeep greatly dwarfs the manpower needed to build it. It is far better to have the infrastructure already in place and clean it, than not to have it in place and then have to deal with things like ghettos, and unbalanced infrastructure needs. Once you fall behind in that respect, the cost to bring an area 'back' to where you want it to be is many orders of magnitude greater than the initial outlay.

    Want to see some large vacant areas right here in the US? Visit the large 'Manhattan West' development in Las Vegas. It is almost completely empty. That is just one of many developments. Who pays for it? Well, the bank writes it off against their loan-loss reserves, and then gets to spread that loss out to offset any profits over the next x number of years.

    banking is a little strange when you fully bury your nose in it, and many, MANY things are almost counter-intuitive if its not your usual line of work. Even when it was involved in my normal line of work, there were still some areas that defied my understanding..Either way, Im not anywhere near that field anymore, and couldn't be happier about that.

    As I said, I am not an expert nor am I silly enough to say this will al just somehow work out great for China. But if I had to put money on them, I would be leaning more to it working out for them as a whole. Mainly because they will do whatever is needed to accomplish that. And that involves some rather ugly things that would never be allowed to happen in a western-style democracy without heads literally rolling. Our banking system shenanigans would have ended with state sponsored beheadings in public, and China is also able to very specifically adjust its currency peg in a way that will soften the blow to them more than any other economy would be able to. This has some downsides, and I think one of the major risks is that they get too accustomed to this setup, and push it right to the edge-conditions, leaving them just as vulnerable as their western counterparts. However, they are not near that point... yet.

  • Re:Largest economy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by dgatwood (11270) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @08:00PM (#36689772) Journal

    I'm assuming it's as described in 1984:

    Inner party
    Outer party
    Proles

    You have the inner party—the upper crust, the rich, the members of the party in power. Then you have the people who work for them—the factory workers, and so on. Finally, you have the people outside the cities.

  • Re:Largest economy? (Score:5, Interesting)

    by artor3 (1344997) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @08:16PM (#36689890)

    End result, learn Chinese. Worst case, you expand your knowledge. Best case, you(more likely your children) don't become a slave.

    More accurately: Worst case, you waste countless hours of your all-too-short life learning a skill you never use. Best case, you can communicate with people that you'd be able to communicate with anyway -- every single Chinese student who wants a college degree has to become fluent in English to pass the CET (College English Test) and high scores are necessary for many top jobs.

    English has become the world's language. There's no reason to learn another language, except as a hobby. A better use of your time is to learn to understand thick accents. There are classes you can take on that, and they will likely be far more useful. Also useful would be studying Eastern cultures, as cultural context is very important in communication.

    And as an aside, it's extremely hyperbolic to suggest that people who don't speak Chinese will become slaves. That's like saying Frenchmen who didn't learn English are slaves.

  • by Moryath (553296) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @08:38PM (#36690024)

    Okami: pressed in Taiwanese DVD-fab factory.
    Wii: full of Foxconn components (China slave labor), likely Korean laser diode in the DVD drive.
    Sony TV: Taiwanese or Korean LCD, could be either.
    Toyota minivan: mostly made in the US (probably Knoxville TN).

    What was your point again?

    Taiwan's what we really should wonder about. China's very good at stealing tech from other countries, [anandtech.com] but crap-all at doing anything else except for destroying the environment and committing acts of barbarism against farmers and monks.

  • Re:Largest economy? (Score:4, Interesting)

    by epine (68316) on Thursday July 07, 2011 @09:25PM (#36690262)

    China needs to achieve 25% of the American per capita income rates to become the world's largest economy as measured in raw dollars.

    The main evidence that they won't achieve this relatively soon is the amount of equity they presently hold in the American economy. At the rate things are going, they'll soon wish they had invested elsewhere.

    Once China reaches GDP parity with America, it will be a symbolic victory only. China will still be an economy with an agricultural sector resembling America 100 years ago. Their social institutions will take generations to evolve and improve. People underestimate the amount of social equity in an advanced economy.

    The more interesting benchmark is when China achieves resource consumption parity with America for Joe Random strategic resource. That will maybe happen a decade after China reaches GDP parity.

    This will create a bit of a seller's market for primary resources (short of America toppling a Chinese regime). Our foothold in Afghanistan might even pay future dividends.

    As for learning Chinese, I worked with Chinese/Japanese/Korean languages from 1985 until the early 1990s back when these languages were poorly supported. I took several Chinese courses at university, and listened to a lot of Japanese instructional tapes.

    Except for a very small percentage of gifted people, learning a second language *for the first time* as an adult is a hellacious amount of work. I had no trouble with Chinese grammar, because my mind already processes grammar at a higher level of abstraction.

    For instance, most people think of singular and plural. Idiots. It's really singular and non-singular.

    negative one books
    zero books
    one book
    one point five books
    two books

    Fowler made a distinction between "fewer" for counting nouns, and "less" for mass nouns (continuous quantities). This distinction was ruined by the express check-out line. He also distinguished "between" for a party of two, and "among" for a party N>2.

    Most people think of possessive pronouns as a branch of property law. Idiots. "Possessive" is actually used in language to indicated a preferred relationship according to largest eigenvalue in whichever mode of PCA analysis is established within the discourse, e.g. the car I borrowed is "my car" if the person I'm talking to is distressingly car-less, and couldn't give a rat's ass how the car I arrive in was originally procured.

    Grammar devolves into metaphor surprisingly often.

    Even starting from this proficiency with the abstractions of the verbal mind, in the end I could hardly justify the net-present-value of becoming proficient with Chinese to any serviceable level, without actually living in China.

    The the time China passes America on more than a handful of critical economic metrics, software translation will be plenty adequate for 95% of people doing business with China.

    I should add here that learning the Chinese writing system is no small project. Reading is enough of a challenge, writing is pure masochism. The Chinese speech system is surprisingly regular with only four or five challenging consonants (c,x,q,zh in pinyin). You just need to completely rewire your tone perception from the music part of your brain to the linguistic part of your brain. I'm not joking. Sounds the brain perceives as linguistic are suppressed from other forms of scrutiny. TED had a recent video about early language learning. It's very early in the language process that the brain codes which sounds are language and which ones aren't (the other active brain skills are sucking, drooling, and eye contact).

    One thing I will say is that if people had more appreciation for the social equity of an advanced technological society, maybe people wouldn't be so actively trying to tear America apart from within. Some of the anti-government voices out there have no clue about the difference between the baby and the bath water. Time after time I listen to economists talk about the world econom

  • Re:Or Not (Score:2, Interesting)

    by rve (4436) on Friday July 08, 2011 @02:22AM (#36691668)

    Reminds me of a Dutch exchange student in middle school. The usual moron was making fun of his accent until a couple of us pointed out that said exchange student was getting an A in English while he was getting a C, even though English was his second language (of about 4).

    You have to admit, it isn't a particularly flattering accent...

    Three of those 4 languages are of very little use unless you don't mind being confined to western Europe. While Dutch kids spend those 12+ hours a week learning geographically confined languages like Dutch, French and German, native English speaking kids have 12+ extra hours a week to learn more useful things, and still be able to communicate more effectively and with more people than someone who is fluent in Dutch and speaks some French, German and English. American kids can take classes like art, drama, debating, literature etc. and play in the school band. Do you think kids who are forced to study three foreign languages have time for this? Worse still, try to find an adult who still knows those foreign languages (other than the same basic English half the world speaks) a few years after their graduation.

    Learning a language other than English is worse than useless if you don't end up using it every day. The skill just fades away. You could have spent that time learning skills you might actually use in your life.

    As for TFA: start learning Chinese if you have concrete plans to spend a lot of time in China. Unless you use it every day, you won't get fluent in it any way, and you'll forget all you've learned, so there is no point in preemptively learning it.

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