How China is making Mandarin the global language

Written by By Didier Ennui, CNN

Language has always been a source of huge competitive advantage for countries across the globe. Now, with a majority of global business conducted in Mandarin, the language of China may be on the brink of breaking the most important linguistic barrier of all: Trans-Atlantic linguistic ones.

Bai Xingping, China’s State Council Information Office information secretary, said in a press conference earlier this month that 85% of China’s urban residents will speak Mandarin by 2025. He made the comment while presenting government’s four-year plan on the promotion of Mandarin as an official language, announced in September.

“We will definitely turn around the status of Mandarin as an official language in the next two or three years. I hope by that time, we will have learned, mastered and taken the lead in the world,” Bai said.

Language is used at the China National Aquatics Center in Beijing. Credit: Getty Images

This is significant not only for China, but also other countries’ speaking or learning of the language, which is already used in about 90 countries, including Vietnam, Spain, Brazil and Australia.

“The future is speaking in Mandarin,” says Yuan Qinglei, a former Chinese official who worked at the Foreign Ministry and Ministry of Commerce and is now an academic.

Yuan admits that 10 years ago, for Beijing and other Chinese cities there were some, but huge linguistic barriers.

According to Yuan, a language needs “a certain degree of aesthetic beauty” to truly capture the imagination and improve usage. “It’s enough if it’s a regular language such as Chinese or Korean. Beyond that, if it is not simple and easy to talk in,” Yuan says, it is not as widely practiced as non-standard languages.

Jung Wook Kim, a professor at Seoul National University, says she has also seen the importance of language learning.

“When I think of how people learn English, there is no difference among them. But the average person who becomes fluent in Mandarin in China will be able to speak smoothly in a foreign language,” Kim says.

“The international challenges are different (than Chinese ones), so it’s harder to make a living. (Conversely) when you’re comfortable speaking Mandarin, that is when you can function better,” says Kim.

In a 4-year plan, China will promote its official language as a main communication tool worldwide. Credit: Getty Images

While factors like language can play a role in foreign language usage, researchers say there are also political and ethical considerations that contribute to it.

“I think it’s not just about language, but also about our strength and where we can express ourselves. The languages of countries that impose restrictions on languages definitely seem to be worse than a country where people are allowed to speak their own language with whatever they want,” says Kim.

Yuan also believes that non-official languages’ proclivity for censorship and monitoring makes them “more limited” than their official counterparts.

“Our citizens’s interest lies in freedom. That is why we are supporting the promotion of … when we say English, that will help us draw more people to use English as a medium of communication, and of course, for Chinese universities to become more international,” says Yuan.

“English is definitely the most advanced and strongest language in the world. English would continue to continue the leadership,” adds Yuan.

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