Check out this Economist story from Nov 2007. As supportive as I am of people who are truly dedicated to learning Mandarin and learning it well, I agree with many of the points made by the author of the piece.
For a spirited discussion of the Economist article, check out this entry on the China Law Blog. Pay particular attention to the comments. You’ll get a good view of both sides of the debate.
For those who read my blog regularly and still aren’t sure what my take is on the learning Mandarin craze, let me summarize my views here.
1. Mandarin Chinese is an extremely difficult language to learn well.
2. Most people who set out to learn Mandarin give up before they become fluent.
3. Most of the people who quit before they got fluent had no idea what they were getting into when they started.
4.People who really want to learn Mandarin get as much help from me as they desire.
5. I’ve never tried to actually discourage someone from learning Mandarin. I’ve only tried to help people understand what they’re getting themselves into.
A note on my qualifications: I first learned Mandarin twenty years ago while living in Taiwan. I have a B.A. in Chinese Literature and an MBA from a well-known program. I have used Mandarin on a daily basis for eleven years in my professional life, working as a translator, interpreter, executive, corporate trainer, and consultant. My wife and her large family are all native speakers of Mandarin and while my Chinese typing skills are average and my character writing is weak, my spoken Mandarin is quite fluent and I can read at an adult level without a problem.
If you need some advice on how to improve your Mandarin, feel free to drop a comment.