Significance of learning Chinese language (Mandarin) in Manipur

Dr Bishanjit Loitongbam *

It has been propagated in Manipur that learning foreign language other than English is of no use. They are propagating it as if knowing English is the only key to unlock all the problems we are facing with. Knowing English is very important. But there is no loss of learning other foreign language, too. We are now in a situation that we should learn Chinese language (Mandarin) extensively.

Native English speaking countries like the US, the UK, Ireland, etc. are sending thousands of their students to China only to learn Chinese language. These countries have realized knowing Chinese language as important for their future on the global stage. In such a situation, it is not prudent to neglect learning Chinese language in Manipur. Now the question is why should we need to learn Chinese language?

This is the time of developing one's economy and the survival. China's global influence has been growing both economically and culturally. China's influence on the global economy is so strong that if a country wants to develop its economy, she needs to cooperate with China and she needs Chinese investment.

It is expected that Chinese economy will dominate and lead the world economy by at least 40/50 years. It will be hard to believe that no one can oppose China's OBOR (One Belt One Road) ini- tiative. Learning Chinese language means building bridges connecting China with their respective countries and also enables them to take advantage of the OBOR Initiative to promote their economy. So, there is 'Mandarin fever' across the world and a growing number of people are starting to learn Chinese language and culture.

By the end of 2016, 1,073 courses have been offered by 512 Confucius Institutes across 140 countries and regions to foreigners who are fond of the Chinese culture. Both developed and developing countries are introducing Chinese courses in their home countries to meet the demand in the market.

For example. Kensington Wade, a London primary school, enrolled its inaugural class of 15 students in September 2017, offering a total immersive learning in the Chinese language. It was the first of its kind in the country and Europe. In Ireland, Chinese language will be added to the list of languages covered under the country's national exams by 2020. It will also be included as a subject in the college entrance exam in 2022. In France also, the number of students learning Chinese language has quadrupled in the past decade.

In the US, Chinese language is the fourth most widely taught foreign language in the schools and Universities. According to 2016 Census Bureau data by the Center for Immigration Studies, out of 65 million Americans speak languages beyond English at home, 3.4 million of them speaking Chinese. South Africa, Mauritius, Tanzania, Cameroon, and Zambia all included Chinese in their national education system in 2016. In Africa, knowledge of Chinese enhances personal competitiveness in finding jobs. For example, in Nigeria, job seekers who are Chinese bilinguals can get three times the salary of other people in similar job positions.

Similarly, there are lots of advantages of learning Mandarin for Manipur. First, learning Mandarin is not encouraged in India due to different reasons which include English bias, history, difficulties of learning Chinese, etc. Also, there are no proper institutions for learning Chinese language in India. On the other side, China is investing a huge amount of money in India and it is expected to increase it every year. An interesting fact is that Chinese people don't speak English and Indian doesn't know Chinese language. This situation gives our students and youth a lifetime opportunity.

If we master in Chinese language, we can build a bridge connecting India with China. If those Manipuri who are working at different companies and departments in different parts of India and abroad had mastered in Chinese language, they would have get these opportunities. They might get relatively higher salary and promotion. Forget the past. Now is the time to begin with. Many of our youth will go to other parts of the country and the world as well looking for jobs.

Thus, we should teach the present generation particularly students the Chinese language so that they can now grab this opportunity. Knowing Chinese language makes them highly competitive and companies (both domestic and foreign) will prefer them at the time of recruiting. Beyond that, they can easily earn money by doing other service based jobs such as tourist guide, interpreter, middleman in different companies (both for Chinese and Indian companies) as representatives, managers, etc.

In tourist hotspot cities like Delhi, Jaipur, Agra, etc., a tourist guide earns more money than a government official. For that matter, we must not belittle or neglect learning Hindi. It means, given English, if a person is fluent in Hindi and Chinese well, he becomes a hot potato in the global job market.

It is no doubt that India and china, the two most populous countries in the world, will cooperate with each other to develop their economy in the future. As most of the mainland Indian neglects learning Chinese language means our advantages - the advantages that we should create. and take it. If we are fluent in Chinese language or trained as a Chinese expert, it can increase both our trading activities and employment.

For us, learning Chinese language is not as difficult as it has been propagated. Our pronunciation, tone and grammar are very much similar with that of Chinese. Most importantly, if we learn this language right now, it will give us 'first moving advantage' rewarding us with a monopoly-like status in the job market.

Another important reason is that we have to improve our economy and our economic development highly depends on our neighboring countries and China. Most of the business and investment activities in East and Asia Pacific countries including Myanmar are dominated and controlled by Chinese and Chinese descendant businessmen and entrepreneurs. They don't speak English.

They prefer to speak in Chinese language while doing business deal. They have the intensity of promoting Chinese language as an alternative international meahs of communication. So, they give special preference or special treatment to those foreigners who speak Mandarin. These people particularly resided in Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Thailand, are in general not fluent in English.

These are the actual people that we are directly interacted with and doing business with. It is unlikely that Chinese investors don't like to invest in virgin land of North east India. For sure, one day, Chinese investment will come to NE and if we want to lead the region, we must learn Chinese language.

It is impossible to teach Chinese language en masse. It would be better to teach it within a policy framework, say 50 students for the first two years. It is very unfortunate that, in spite of knowing all these facts, government and University authority seems to be not interested in pursuing such an initiative.

Another aspect that we should consider regarding leaning foreign language is Thai language and Burmese language. For our survival and revival of our economy, these two languages will play as important role as Chinese language. China, Thailand and Myanmar are the three countries that can act as the three pillars of rejuvenating Manipur's economy as well as the rest of the NE states. As the saying goes, strike while the iron is hot, now is the right time to act. Opportunity is just like bubbles floating in stream, if you don't grab it in time, it bursts at any moment at any'time.

Thus we should train our young people not only to gain a good command of the Chinese language, but also take advantage of the Belt and Road Initiative and Act East Policy to promote cooperation between China and India.

* Dr Bishanjit Loitongbam wrote this article for The Sangai Express
This article was posted on November 22, 2017.

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