The Number of Chinese Learners in the USA

The number of actual Chinese learners around the world, and in the USA, is widely misreported and largely unknown. I keep reading articles that quote 30 million learners. I’m really not sure where all of these learners are, unless someone made a mistake and confused Taiwan with Thailand and so counted 6 million public school children and another 1.5 million university students.

I recently came upon an article in the Straits Times that offers some insight into the numbers for the USA.

Here’s the link: More Learning Chinese in the US

In summary:

51,000 university students are studying Chinese.

250,000 to 300,000 elementary school students are studying Chinese, but many of these are enrolled in weekend schools for children of overseas Chinese living in the States.

Hardly the vast hordes predicted in the media!

And…another repeat of my position on the learning Mandarin craze:

The craze itself is overblown, largely a media creation, and will die down at some point in the not too distant future. As for individuals who want to learn Chinese, my advice is simple: You had better have a very, very good reason to learn Chinese, or it isn’t going to happen. Chinese isn’t like Spanish, French, German, or even Japanese. It’s a very, very difficult language to learn well.

However, if you do in fact have a good reason to learn, one so good that there’s no turning back, then dig in and learn your little heart out. Uncle True will be here to help you if you need it.

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5 Comments

Filed under The Learning Chinese Craze

5 responses to “The Number of Chinese Learners in the USA

  1. i think 30 mil is too big, but the number should be around 5 mil.

    Considering there are 35 mil overseas Chinese in the world. 10% of them are learning Chinese. Then you get 3.5 mil. And there are should be some ppl in Japan and Korea want to learn Chinese. Plus other Chinese learners in other countries. 5 mil Chinese learners should not be a surprise.

  2. Dave

    Spoken Chinese is not hard to learn at all, it’s actually rather easy, it has very simple grammar, no genders and no verb conjugation. It’s written Chinese that’s harder, although it’s not that difficult as it’s just learning symbols.

    1,300,000,000 people around the world speak it fluently so it can’t be that hard.

    • truettblack

      I have never, in 20 years of speaking Chinese, heard a fluent non-native speaker of Chinese make the statement you’ve made here, that Chinese is “not hard to learn at all.” At most, you’ll hear someone say “It wasn’t too terrible.” or “After the first year it got easier.”

      The simplicity of Chinese grammar, lack of genders, and the absence of verb conjugation does not obviate the difficultly of pronouncing the tones of Mandarin correctly, often the biggest stumbling block for non-native speakers. Further, the language structures and some of the word order of Chinese sentences are very foreign to non-native speakers. There are almost no shared words between Mandarin and English, Spanish, etc. Correctly producing the sounds of Mandarin (e.g. r and yu) and are a challenge for English speakers. I could go on, but most people will get it at this point.

      Saying that because a billion or more people speak fluent Chinese, it must be easy is just silly. First of all, it isn’t a billion, and for those who do speak it as their native language, well, it’s their native language. The Chinese think English is an incredibly difficult language to learn, but it sure seemed easy to me.

  3. Anne

    As a passionate learner of Japanese and Chinese, I would have to say that Japanese is harder in many ways.

    Chinese characters have only one reading, whereas Japanese characters can have many very different readings, for example.

    I’m not going to argue it too much, but I do believe that Japanese is slightly more difficult than standard Mandarin Chinese.

    • truettblack

      Anne, thanks for sharing your experience. I too have studied both languages, and found Japanese to be far easier than Mandarin at the more basic levels. I never got to the point of reading, so you have more experience than I do at the advanced levels of study.

      I generally include Japanese on my list of languages easier to learn than Mandarin based on (1) The US Department of State’s research-based conclusions that support this assertion and (2) the experience of many friends in greater China who have studied both languages at the advanced levels and who tell me almost universally that Japanese is the easier of the two languages to learn.

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