Why do people learn a new language and why I am learning Chinese

Why do people learn a new language?

Tiān kōng shì lán sè de.

A couple of months ago, I found myself suddenly awash in a lot of extra time, i.e. unemployed. Since idle hands make the devil’s work and all, I thought it would be a great time to take a Mandarin class. It was good for me to get out of the apartment, meet new people, and have something positive to look forward to every week while I looked for a new job.

Admittedly, part of me wasn’t sure if it would last beyond one or two levels. When I first moved to Canada (Ottawa, to be precise), I briefly dabbled in learning French, but I quickly gave it up, partly as a result of my militant, proselytising Separatist French instructor.

Given the bilingual nature of good jobs in Ottawa, I found it difficult to fight for the jobs I really wanted there, because I didn’t speak French. Even though bilingualism in Vancouver is not really an issue, I have no intention of making the same mistake twice. The French language isn’t prevalent here, but Chinese dialects are. I found the following from the 2006 census:

Greater Vancouver population: 2,116,581

Cantonese-speakers: 125,940

Mandarin-speakers: 120,205

Chinese, n.o.s. speakers: 69,265

315,410 people. That means that in 2006, almost 15% of residents in the Greater Vancouver area spoke some dialect of Chinese language. I’ve heard, but have no reliable source to confirm it, that that number is now closer to, if not exceeds, 20%. The connections between people in Vancouver and people all over Asia are numerous and complex, and as a forward-thinking person, I am not content to set myself up for success in only one city or country, or even one continent. “Unwise that would be,” I imagine Yoda would say.

There are lots of reasons to learn a foreign language, not just related to business and employment. In my first Mandarin class, there were a number of reasons for learning Mandarin represented. Two ladies spoke Cantonese, one lady spoke Korean, and one man spoke Japanese, and they all wanted to add Mandarin. One woman was preparing for an upcoming vacation to Shanghai. Two younger ladies had numerous Chinese friends and wanted to be able to communicate with them better. One acquaintance of mine is attracted to Asian women, and while I don’t think I’ll ever be able to verify this, I think he began learning Mandarin to pick up women. Fair enough. Sex is fun.


So, why am I learning a new language?

Then there’s me. Escapism? Yes. More employable? Yes. Need stimulation? Yes. Need a challenge? Yes. Promote health? Yes. The thought of being a rare Mandarin-speaking white girl? Yes. (Granted, I do not enjoy the attention of the masses, but in certain contexts, I’m all over it.) Do I have multilayered reasons for wanting to learn Mandarin? Yes. I’m sure this is the case with the others as well, but we all need our secrets. ;)

Will learning a new language stick on me this time? Most definitely. Not only have I taken a beginner’s class in Mandarin at a community centre, but I’m also taking it at a local college and practicing using Rosetta Stone, as well. I watch Mandarin news on tv, pretend to read news in Chinese on the Internet, read about learning Mandarin on various blogs and occasionally listen to Mandarin music on YouTube. I’m at stage two of learning Chinese, according to John Pasden at sinosplice.com.

I’m not prepared to lie on my resume about speaking Chinese, but clearly, I’m a badass because I can say “the sky is blue” in Mandarin.

Why are you learning Chinese? Add in the comments below.


This post was originally published on the Study More Chinese blog.

(photo credit foxtongue)

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Comment by Plum 翠喜 on July 13, 2012 at 11:12am


That's quite a compliment. Xiexie! I hope to write more soon, but free time is elusive at the moment. And yes, I agree that enrichment is absolutely reason enough to learn a language. :)

Comment by sikora on July 12, 2012 at 8:29am
Traci, it's so delightful to read your post. If one's ability to write in English has anything to do with second language acquisition, then you'll be teaching Mandarin classes by this time next year. My personal view on learning languages is far from pragmatic. I see it as learning music, or art: it enriches life, and isn't that reason enough? I'm looking forward to reading more from you.

Comment by jono1001 on July 9, 2012 at 8:13pm

It is always interesting to read why people study Chinese. It would be good to read more posts and replies. 

Why I am learning Chinese

Can be found here. 


Comment by Andy on July 9, 2012 at 10:49am

I recently started learning the language because i travel to Beijing a handful of times per year and also I feel guilty that my colleagues have to speak English in all the meetings, e-mails, etc...That was the initial reason to get me started, now that i've been studying for several months, getting tutored, and making tons of new friends on Skype and QQ, this is no longer a business related thing but a hobby or a passion that feel driven to do now. As I learn more about the Chinese history and culture and differences between provinces I'm motivated to keep learning the language.

I'm hoping this becomes a lifelong thing.


Comment by Ruaridh Maxwell/麥儒叡 on July 6, 2012 at 10:39am

Hi Traci, welcome to the site!  It's always nice to see new faces around here.

As for me, well I suppose I was introduced to Chinese almost by accident.  I found myself taking an unintentional gap year, so managed to land a job in Hong Kong.  Problem was that the area I was living in didn't have too many English-speakers living there.  I started learning Cantonese purely for survival and courtesy's sake, but soon fell in love with the language.  When I moved back to the UK, I shifted my focus to Mandarin and haven't looked back since. 

I find learning a language very rewarding.  If only because it demystifies things and bring you that bit closer to others.  This approach has gifted me with something of a rag-tag collection of basic phrases in certain languages of varying "usefulness" (It usually amounts to hello, goodbye, please, thankyou, and I'm sorry I don't speak <insert name of language here>).

And don't worry, all my friends are sick of my ramblings about Chinese too!

Comment by Plum 翠喜 on July 4, 2012 at 11:00pm

Hi Shu,

Xiexie! I will definitely write as often as I can. I absolutely love my classes, and I'm sure my friends are sick of hearing about it. 

I will listen to that song after work today!



Comment by Shu on July 4, 2012 at 6:02am


I enjoyed reading your post:) You should write often and tell us your journey of Chinese learning!

Once, I was thinking to learn Spanish, and then I went on an online Spanish lesson, and I quit after 30 minutes :(

Keep your learning spirit up and you will be doing very very fine as long as you are persistent. Speaking of persistent, you should listen to this song, it is called Jian chi dao di   http://www.chinesetolearn.com/?p=3571

Have fun learning Chinese and welcome to the club.

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