While the Chinese are putting blood, sweat and tears into learning English, the Chinese language is becoming fashionable within the European continent. Although for the majority of us, it still looks impossible to master, more and more people choose to study this language. Universities across Europe are beginning to offer bachelor degrees in Mandarin Chinese with a placement year in China. What is going to happen in Europe in a few decades? For approximately 400 years French was the dominant European language. After the Second World War English took over, and it is the dominant language in Europe up to today. Will Chinese be our next lingua franca?
CHINESE IS SIMPLE
Many would call me crazy and would claim that Chinese is simply too hard to become the dominant language, the language of diplomacy and international affairs, but are they right? In fact, the most difficult part of learning Chinese is writing (well, maybe pronunciation as well, but it is difficult in any new language that we start learning), the rest is easier than most people would think. Chinese is a language with a very basic grammar, meaning that there are no tenses or any fancy grammatical obstacles that would make it really hard to master. I will give you a simple example of a literal Chinese sentence:
Literal meaning: “This movie I look-no-understand”
English meaning: “I can't understand this movie even though I watched it”
We clearly see in the English sentence that we have to add some conjunctions, different tenses, and modal verbs. Consequently, the proponents of the idea that Chinese is just too hard to learn to become the world’s language would not be completely right.
THE GROWTH OF THE CHINESE LANGUAGE
Let me give you some statistics:
In 2010, 750,000 people (670,000 from overseas) took the Chinese Proficiency Test. In comparison, based on the information found in Xinhua News, in 2005, 117,660 non-native speakers took the test, and it was an increase of 26.52% from 2004. Finally, according to Time Asian, from 2000 to 2004, the number of students in England, Wales and Northern Ireland taking Advanced Level exams in Chinese increased by 57%. After having crunched all the numbers, it is visible, that the popularity of Mandarin is increasing and it is likely to grow in the future.
COULD CHINESE BECOME THE LINGUA FRANCA?
Can Chinese become Europe’s lingua franca? Speaking from my point of view, everything is possible. Obviously, the fact that it is not European would cause confusion if people started speaking it in Europe, but anyway... I think that the world (including Europe) is pulling English; and it is not the USA that is pushing it. The whole process of globalisation would be relatively easy to stop, if the countries did not want to implement Western innovations. It became economically beneficial for both, plus in some Eastern European countries English is a fashionable trend.
Could Europe start pulling Chinese as the primary language? I would not be so sure, because English is well ingrained and everyone still prioritizes it. It is still the first foreign language for the vast majority of people. My hypothesis for the reason for the growth of Chinese learners is simple - people see it as a growing language (moreover, it is the most spoken language across the globe), and the majority of Europeans can already speak English relatively well. I think that in today’s societies multilingualism has become a necessity, because the European and world cultures are intertwined, and it is not enough to only know one or two languages. For this reason, I'd say that Chinese will come in handy, as it is the largest Asian language and China is one of the worlds' dominant markets, consequently, many businesses want to cooperate with China. At the end of the day there is no better way to impress potential partners than the ability to communicate without any interpreters.