- The Chinese civilization dates back over 6000 years. Learning the language will enable you to experience with greater depth and insight the cumulative knowledge and exquisite culture of one the oldest civilizations the world has to offer.
- Chinese is the language spoken throughout China, Taiwan, Singapore, Southeast Asian countries and other parts of the world where Chinese-speaking communities are present. Chinese is also one of the working languages of the United Nations.
- The fast growing nation of China has become a considerable player in the world of international finance, economy, and politics. The U.S. government has designated relations with China among the foreign policy issues of high importance. Chinese is considered one of the most critical languages for Americans to learn in the 21st century as China”s booming industry and consumption impacts the U.S. economy.
- Learning Chinese may greatly assist you in career advancement as many opportunities in government, business, scientific, scholarly, and cultural exchanges will require facility with the Chinese language.
It is worth noting that there are several Chinese dialects including Mandarin, Cantonese, Hunanese, Hakka, Gan and others. As a land of vast proportions and a long cultural history; many Chinese dialects are mutually unintelligible to one another. The Chinese curriculum at Austin Community College teaches the standardized form of spoken Chinese officially adopted by the People”s Republic of China, also known as Modern Standard Chinese and sometimes referred to as Standard Mandarin or Putonghua. Standard Mandarin is based upon the dialect of Beijing.
Chinese as a spoken language has a simple structure, and it uses tones–or variations in pitch– to give different meanings to a word. For instance, the word "ba" may mean "eight", "to uproot", or "to hold" depending on the tone with which it is spoken. While all languages use tone to convey an emotional meaning or to place emphasis–known as intonation–not all languages use tonal variations to comprise entirely separate vocabulary words. In particular, most Indo-European languages including English do not use tones in this way. As one begins to learn to speak Chinese, it is equally important to memorize the tone of a new word along with its meaning.
The Chinese writing system is one of the oldest methods of writing known to man; some examples of ancient Chinese script date back to the 2nd millennium BC. Written Chinese uses a logographic system comprised of a series of characters that represent a word or phrase. Traditionally, Chinese characters are written in columns that are read from top to bottom, from right to left. These characters were originally based on ideograms; an ideogram is an image that pictorially conveys the meaning of word. Because of the use of representative symbols as a writing system, there are more than 50,000 characters in the Chinese language.
One fascinating aspect of the Chinese writing system is that it has changed relatively little in its long history. Conversely, the spoken dialects of China diverged markedly. Even as the pronunciation of a word began to vary even dramatically from region to region, the written symbol that represented that word did not. As a result, the shared system of Chinese writing provided a unifying element throughout China. The Chinese writing system also paved the foundation for other Asian writing systems including that of Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese.
The cumbersome scope of Chinese characters, however, in part accounted for high illiteracy rates in China. In the mid 20th century, the People”s Republic of China sought to combat illiteracy by introducing a simplified set of the most commonly used characters. The Chinese writing system in and of itself is not conceptually difficult, but it does involve a good deal of memorization. A working knowledge of roughly 3,000 characters would enable one to read about 99% of the characters used in Chinese newspapers and magazines. In order to read Chinese literature or technical writing, a breadth of about 6,000 characters is necessary. The Chinese curriculum at Austin Community College provides students with the option to focus on learning either Traditional Chinese characters or Simplified Chinese characters.
Despite the fact that learning the Chinese writing system may appear daunting, there are aspects to the learning the spoken language that make it relatively easier to learn than many Indo-European languages: there are no subject/verb agreements, no plurals, no conjugations, no verb tenses, simple prepositions, simple conditional sentences, and a simple numbering system that applies to both date and time expressions.