Thursday, September 22, 2011

Views | Should more Indians learn Mandarin? - Livemint

Maverick investor Jim Rogers says that one of the best things he has done for his two daughters is teaching them to speak Mandarin, because he believes it will become the most important language in the world in the coming decades.

Mint reported on Wednesday that the Great Lakes Institute of Management, based in Chennai and founded by Bala Balachandran, has made in compulsory for all its students to learn Mandarin. Other B-schools in the country are also offering the Chinese language as an optional subject. There have been earlier news reports about how business executives and traders who have growing business in China are learning to speak Mandarin.

Economist Arvind Subramanian has argued in his new book --- Eclipse: Living In The Shadow Of China’s Economic Dominance --- that the shift of economic power from the US to China will happen more rapidly than most believe. I have not read the book, but an essay based on the main thesis that Subramanian has published in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs.

The rise of China as a dominant power will have implications for the rest of the world -- from the nature of global public institutions to the ability of the yuan to replace the dollar as the world’s main currency to the potential military threat in the region. (The Indian and Chinese navies had their first face-off in the Indian Ocean in July.)

But there will be opportunities as well, as growing trade and investment links show. China is already India’s biggest trading partner. Both the threats and opportunities demand that Indians develop a deeper understanding of the Chinese. Learning their language is one obvious solution. It is surprising to see schools and colleges in India still offering European languages such as German and French, but not Mandarin.

Rogers is known for extreme statements, so Mandarin is unlikely to replace English as the most important language in the world anytime soon. Language dominance tends to last because of network effects: the very fact that the global elite uses English as its language of communication will ensure that new members of this elite will also want to learn English. The Chinese drive to teach English to its citizens in well known.

That said, there is no doubt that more educational institutions in India must begin teaching Mandarin.


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