Saturday, April 26, 2008

Opportunity cost

Another reason why I don't learn Chinese......

It's just such a time-consuming undertaking that I can't see any value flowing from it that justifies the expense. Most of the reasons for learning the language I usually hear trotted out by people are, I think, entirely bogus or misguided.

I had a particularly obnoxious Australian woman berating me the other night on this point (my curmudgeonly drinking buddy, Big Frank, always maintains that the use of the word 'obnoxious' alongside 'Australian' is redundant, and I am often tempted to agree). She suggested that learning Chinese was somehow useful for learning about the history and culture of the country.

How??? Is there, in fact, anything worthwhile written about the history and culture of the country in Chinese? Even if there were, how many foreign students of Chinese actually attain a high enough reading level in the language to be able to read textbooks like this?

There is a lot written about Chinese history and culture in English. I am interested in these subjects. I read everything I can find about them. I wouldn't have time to do this if I were devoting 3 or 4 hours a day to trying to develop a rudimentary proficiency in the language. Trying to learn Chinese is, I feel, a waste of time.


danny said...

Chinese Mandarin is indeed a useful and beautiful language, which is worthy spending time to learn. For most beginners, it is challenging. But don’t worry about it. Check this good Chinese Mandarin learning site to learn more about learning Chinese, you will find learning Chinese easy and interesting.

Froog said...

I have tried. I find it neither.

Thanks for the spam again, Danny.

The British Cowboy said...

I guess there is the Art of War. But I would imagine a translation is acceptable for that.

Froog said...

And it's a shit book, well up there amongst the most overrated of all time. "Don't let your enemy choose the place of giving battle." "Try to maintain the element of surprise." Mindblowing stuff - NOT. Clausewitz is way better. And Caesar. And just about any other military historian or strategic theorist you could mention. Sun Tze is mostly drivel.

The British Cowboy said...

Just to be annoying here, don't you think something might be weel thought of because it states what are NOW considered to be truisms, but before were not thought of as such?

And read Guderian.

Froog said...

No. Not in this case, anyway. I don't see any originality, insight, depth of analysis in this. And it is ploddingly written.

This may be another example of the limitations of the Chinese language. Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, writing only a century later, are far more lucid and involving.

Anonymous said...

English is very cumbersome with so many rules and exceptions.

Chinese is a very concise language especially in written form, all you need is to get through the first hurdle and learned the basic characters and you can start reading. You don’t even need a dictionary because you can “jump” characters, after awhile you can automatically work out the meaning of missing character.

Froog said...

The complexity of English is one of its great glories. It is a very mature language, having evolved through centuries of interaction with other languages and cultures all around the globe and through being used by some the greatest writers and thinkers the world has seen. Chinese doesn't really have these advantages; it doesn't really seem to have made much progress as a language in the last couple of thousand years - and the difficulty of the writing system (and consequent mass illiteracy) is a large part of the reason for this.

And I like complex grammar. Grammar is your friend when you are learning a new language. Lexical diversity is a help too.

Trying to express yourself in Chinese is like driving a car without a steering wheel. And with flat tyres. And not much petrol in the tank.

Anonymous said...

Oh well ... guess I'm alot more proficient in English than you are in Chinese.

Hence it gives me much pleasure to conclude, with certain authority, that you are just a lazy old fart.

Froog said...

Well, I've often called myself that - in jest. In fact, though, I'm a bit of a workaholic, packing my day with all kinds of interesting and useful activities.

Chinese, unfortunately, is for Westerners much more difficult to learn than just about any other language in the world. To attain a worthwhile proficiency usually does take at least a couple of thousand hours of study and practice, maybe even more.

I have tried, but - unlike with most other languages I've learned - I don't find the effort enjoyable in itself. And I can't find any motivating end-purpose: Chinese just isn't going to be that useful to me for anything.