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Why Every Maker Should Learn Chinese
Pictured above: MAKE Chinese edition

Nǐ hǎo 你好! Permanently on my desk, and everywhere I go is an iPad/iPhone app called Pleco, which has my custom flash cards that I use to quiz myself about 300 Chinese (Mandarin) characters. I’m getting pretty good with the help of a weekly instructor found via Craigslist, daily walks through Chinatown in NYC, and a website called Memrise. In less than a month I’ve been able to specifically translate (a lot of) the data sheets for products I’m sampling/purchasing for my job at Adafruit Industries, and for fun/downtime I’m translating some of the Chinese graffiti in Blade Runner (I always wanted to know what they said).

At this point, you might be asking, “Why are you wasting your time learning such a hard language? Computers can do it — why don’t you hire a translator?” Or “the USA will make electronic components again, really!” Well, I’m going to tell you why and how I’ve decided to devote the next 2+ years or so of my free time to learning (Mandarin) Chinese with my own deadline to be fluent by 2016.

In this week’s article I’ll talk about why I think it’s a good idea for any maker to consider picking up some new language skills and specifically what I’m doing. A lot of my articles tend to be about the future (I can’t wait to look back on these 5 years from now). So, yes, I think a lot of us are going to find speaking, reading, and writing the language of the soon-to-be biggest economy in the world and, who makes almost everything, is a good idea. It’s something to consider learning, starting now, particularly for makers, especially the ones who run maker businesses.

World Stage Is Set, the Numbers Are In

Why? To begin, we’re not going to be “first” any more.

According to the International Monetary fund folks (IMF), by 2016 China’s economy will be the biggest in the world, surpassing the USA. We’re currently in the #1 spot, China is #2, and Japan just fell to 3rd place last year.

China’s economy is expected to grow from $11.2 trillion (2011) to $19 trillion in 2016, and the U.S. is expected to go from $15.2 trillion (2011) to $18.8 trillion in 2016, which would make China about 18% of the world economy.

Imf

For econo-geeks, depending on how you look at the numbers, you could argue it will be 2016 based on purchasing power parity (comparing how people spend and earn, the actual purchasing power households have) or you could look at an economy measured in U.S. dollars. If you do that, it will take a little longer, but not much, maybe 2020-ish. Per-capita income will take a longer too, but not many world economy experts are arguing “if” it will happen, only “when.” OK, those are boring stats, but I think they matter.

Either way, it’s become clear to me from working in the electronics world in some way for 20+ years, traveling the world in the context of how people “make” things, and when I worked with larger companies and spent a long time in China that it’s a great time to learn (Mandarin) Chinese, and I think it’s never been easier. Previously, I tried and did OK, but lost it later.

Almost a Decade Ago – Use It or Lose It

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Chart: Which languages are the hardest to learn?

A few years ago I was spending a lot of time in Japan and China working with Sony on the “gallery” they planned to build in Shanghai. At the time, Sony could not sell their products in China, so they wanted to create a gallery of their high-end goods as a sort of introduction. I was trying to memorize both Japanese and (Mandarin) Chinese phrases to do my job helping Sony, and I did OK but I really didn’t have a grasp of the language.

Figure01
The business-style learning technique at the time was using audio CDs. I would rip them and listen to them on my Sony CLIÉ; 8+ hour flights were perfect for this.

Dsc00121

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Pictured above: Me, at Shanghai Urban Planning Exhibition Center in Shanghai, Thanksgiving 2003, with a scale model of the city’s growth.

Within a year I could actually see the city grow enormously, and I was able to meet a lot of people. Many of the people working on the Sony gallery spoke English, and I had access to translators, but it was always better and more enjoyable to talk with others directly. However, once I returned to the USA I didn’t have any daily practice. I was living in Minnesota at the time, and (unlike now) I couldn’t visit a section of town that was in Chinese to either practice speaking or some rudimentary character recognition. For a few months I would try to Skype with a few people who I could practice with but it wasn’t a daily thing so eventually I forgot most of it. I also think memorizing phrases wasn’t that good for the long term, more on that later.

The Present – Daily Exposure, One Source for All

Fast forward almost a decade, and I’m living in NYC and talking, reading, or emailing with someone in China. If you make anything, eventually you’ll find that there isn’t a supply chain that beats what China has; while a lot of people will claim goods are made in China only because of lower costs, that’s not 100% true. The supply chain of components to assembly are almost impossible to find elsewhere. If you look at once-booming industrial cities in the USA, you’ll see a lot of the work, from parts to assembly, happened in big chunks of locations — this is efficient and allows manufacturing to flourish.

For makers, specifically makers who are starting electronics businesses, most/all components are sourced from China. Millions of dollars of components come in, and they’re assembled; sometimes products are “Designed in the USA” but “Made in China”. Look under your Mac or iPhone — this is how it’s done.

In the maker spectrum of companies, SparkFun is one of, if not the biggest, company at the moment. Here are the latest public stats (source: SparkFun’s blog):

In 2010, SparkFun had revenues of about $18.4MM. As of April of 2011… 120 employees, up from 87 a year ago.

It’s safe to say millions of dollars are already being spent from just one company in the maker arena you’re familiar with, add up all the maker businesses generating over $1M and you’ll likely hit tens of millions quickly if not over $100M+.

Pcb Endofline

Mic Debugging

I think it’s also becoming important for maker companies to actually visit the places and people they’re doing business with. It might not matter to some businesses or markets, but I think it matters to us, as makers.

Three quick examples: “The Return to Shenzhen – SparkFun, Bunnie Huang’s visits to the Chumby assembly line, and Mitch Altman’s visits to the TV-B-Gone factory. Pictured above is Bunnie on the Chumby assembly line. Be sure to read his entire “Made in China” series.

You’re going to see and hear about more and more open source hardware and maker businesses visiting China, and we’ll likely even see and hear some familiar faces in the maker community spending extended time living/working in China. Makers are smart, nimble, and efficient. Being on-site and on the assembly line is usually how we think; we don’t mind getting our hands dirty and participating in all parts of the process. It’s only going to make sense that more and more of the most prolific makers will consider learning a new language the more time they spend in China.

3299333495 B74600E29E Z

Here’s a great post from Evil Mad Scientist about their visit to the electronics markets of Shenzhen.

For me, each day for the last 5+ years, my exposure to Chinese has increased exponentially. Daily emails to suppliers, phone calls late at night (time zone differences), and looking at data sheets to figure out what’s what. One of the things that you’ll notice when you get components, or let’s say something like LCD screens, directly from China is that the data sheet and code examples are written in Chinese. This is because it’s not meant to be used by anyone else besides other Chinese manufacturers for their products/assembly.

Many of the people I work with around the world have made an obvious effort to learn English, so I think it’s only fair at this point I try to learn their language too. So far, as I’ve practiced with suppliers, partners, and friends in China they’re extremely happy that I’m making this effort. It’s helped with negotiations and just general good vibes between companies. A lot of companies I know go through middlemen, brokers, and companies that will do a lot for you, and that’s fine but you’re losing margins. And besides, it adds complexity. I want to get as close to the source as possible if I can.

Learning (Mandarin) Chinese 2.0

OK great, you may be convinced at this point that it’s handy to know some language skills to do more in and with China if you’re a maker. About a month ago I said to myself that I wanted a goal of when I’d learn (Mandarin) Chinese, how and what ways I could measure my progress. I wanted to make sure I’d have daily exposure in some way, and I also wanted to make sure I could do something with the little bits of time when I’m on hold on the phone or just waiting. The one thing I was worried about was not having the hours of interrupted time to learn a new language. So I put together a strategy that so far has worked out. In less than 30 days I’ve been able to read/write and understand a lot of (Mandarin) Chinese that has greatly assisted my daily job of co-running a successful open source hardware business, Adafruit Industries. I have a long way to go, but it’s been a lot of fun. I realize this is not going to be a one-size-fits-all for anyone, but I don’t mind sharing what I’m doing and how I’m applying these new skills.

Chinese Language Learning Resources for Makers

The first thing I did, since I live in NYC, was to hit Craigslist for language instruction. There are tons of folks in the NYC who are highly skilled and all very reasonably priced. I currently have an instructor stop by once per week. This gave me the framework of what I needed to study and someone I could ask tons of questions.

Next up: technology. Surely technology better than audio CDs, lots of writing, and flash card exercises has come along since I tried to learn almost 10 years ago. Well, yes and no. Those are all still handy, and I’m using them here and there, but the most valuable tools I’ve found are:

Pleco

Pt 101245

Pleco is free, but you buy packs. I have voices, character recognition, and a couple others, and I think it was under $100 in total. This one is complicated, but worth learning. Making flash cards, looking up items, practicing strokes, it’s all there. And it works on my iPhone/iPad, so I always have it.

Pleco is the ultimate Chinese learning companion – an integrated Chinese dictionary / document reader / flashcard system with fullscreen handwriting input and live camera-based character recognition.

Dictionaries: the built-in one has over 20,000 example sentences with Pinyin, the popular CC-CEDICT is available as a free add-on, and 7 other wonderful dictionaries are available as paid upgrades.

Fullscreen handwriting: use the entire width of your iPhone’s screen to draw characters.

Live Optical Character Recognizer: look up words simply by pointing your device’s camera at them, or by tapping on them in a still image.

Flashcard System: create a card from any dictionary entry with a single button tap, import premade word lists, use advanced memorization techniques like SRS (spaced repetition), and study in a variety of modes including fill-in-the-blanks handwriting and tone drills.

Powerful search: look up words by Chinese characters, Pinyin (spaces and tones optional), or a combination, with support for wildcards and full-text search.

Cross-referencing: tap on any Chinese character / word in any dictionary entry to bring up its definition.

Audio Pronunciation: instantly hear a native-speaker audio recording of each Chinese headword; recordings are available for over 34,000 words.

Stroke Order Diagrams: animations showing you how to draw each character; over 20,000 characters are covered.

Software is sold only through in-app purchases, those purchases can be transferred to other devices that sync to your iTunes account just as with any other iOS software; simply load up the free version on each device, open up the “Add-ons” screen, and tap on the “Restore Purchases” button to activate your purchase on each device.

There might be different or better apps (feel free to post them), but I haven’t found them and all my resources are not as expensive as the big guys (Rosetta, Berlitz, etc).

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Oh! Here’s a quick screenshot of the “live” recognizer viewing the cover of MAKE Chinese edition! And before I forget, here’s a pro tip! Get an iPad/iPhone stylus for writing strokes, otherwise your wrist will hurt from using your finger a lot.


Memrise

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Memrise is flash cards on steroids if you are a visual learner (most are). Try this site out; if you’re addicted to things like Farmville, ditch that and learn a new language. You plant seeds, water plants, grow them, and keep them from wilting. I love the site, the visuals are fantastic and I think they’re the future of learning in general. Nice work.

Memrise is the fastest and most enjoyable way to learn words in any language. We’ve taken the very best science of learning and combined it with engaging, playful design to make word-learning fun, fast and exceedingly effective.


Google Translate/Chrome

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Google’s translation services are handy for cutting and pasting in text, translating, phonetic typing, and “speaking” out loud — all essential to me now (and free).


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One more thing for resources: LIVE exposure! I’m a few blocks from Chinatown in NYC, and this is where I practice character recognition. Once you “unlock” being able to see characters, there’s a new world to explore. All of a sudden I could spot the differences between a Western pharmacy and a Chinese pharmacy from the words alone. Specific characters like “electricity” always jump out at me since I see them all the time. Stopping in for some food in Chinatown is a million times easier since I can make out most types of food with just the characters. I think if I didn’t live in NYC or close to a local Chinese district, it would be harder to do this daily. Pictured above, one of my favorite stops on Canal street, 269 Electronics.

A Simple Data Sheet Example

Here’s a data sheet I’m looking at right now, so I thought I’d toss it in this article as a basic example. Can you spot “electricity”? It’s the little character that looks like a solar panel with a wire coming out. This is a data sheet for a digital-output relative humidity and temperature sensor/module AM2303. Knowing a little about each character can help you know (in general) what to look for.

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Ele Dian4

Chinese characters are often made up of pictures, and each (can) tell a story. Unlike memorizing an alphabet of letters, you can actually get some clues as to what something means — this has been extremely helpful. This image is likely now burned in your head, and you’ll always see it as electricity — see how easy that was?! It’s pronounced “Diàn” with a 4th tone, so rising to falling; it sounds like “Dee ANN”!

Speaking (well) for me is taking longer since actually listening and knowing the tones of words matters, but the more I listen and speak the easier it’s getting, of course.

The Future Belongs to China — Blade Runner

And last up, a geeky activity I am enjoying is trying to translate the Chinese found in some of my favorite science fiction movies/series. It’s a fun distraction that still keeps my head in the game. Here are a few from Firefly and Blade Runner.

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This one from Blade Runner was something I always wanted to know since I saw the movie. Outside the “Eyeworks” labs, where replicant eyes are made, is some graffiti. While there is some debate about what it says, one person who saw my attempt at translation (lower right box) said it means “The future belong to the Chinese”. That might not be what it means, but between Firefly and Blade Runner, the futurist scenes they’ve painted in my mind make me think it’s within the realm of possibilities.


Wrapping this up, I’m learning at an OK clip. I’m exposed daily, and I think I have a shot of being pretty good in 2 years, realistically, and maybe even fluent by 2016. I think it’s good for my business, for the people I work with, and it just feels right; others make an effort to speak to me in my language, seems fair to return the favor. And before the trolly trolls hit the comments, I’m not a Debbie Downer about America’s prospects — quite the opposite, I think the USA and China will continue to design and make some of the best things in the world, together. As we progress as a species, I don’t think “countries” will matter as much. I’m not talking about 10 years from now, I’m talking 100 years from now. As I meet new people around the world, the more I know that we’re all the same really, and we’re all in this together. I figure I can at least get to know more people better by simply learning their language along this all-too-brief journey.

And here’s the part where (if you’ve read all this) you weigh in: Is this something you’d like to do? Have you learned Chinese? What tips and resources can you share? Post up in the comments!

谢谢 (Xièxiè) Thank you!

Phillip Torrone

Editor at large – Make magazine. Creative director – Adafruit Industries, contributing editor – Popular Science. Previously: Founded – Hack-a-Day, how-to editor – Engadget, Director of product development – Fallon Worldwide, Technology Director – Braincraft.


Related

Comments

  1. RoofusKit says:

    Not trying to be a troll here, and I especially love learning languages. But we’ll have to see how relevant they are after their falsely inflated comedy crashes, and makes the great depression look like a tiny recession. I certainly laugh when people still hold those fears about China ruling the world in 20 years.

    1. Anonymous says:

      congrats on the trolling! just kidding, sorta – but we’ll see right? check back in 5 years – for now, what is the harm in learning a language i can use *daily* ?

      1. Anonymous says:

        Yeah, I think one of the kindest things you can do for your noddle is to learn a new language.

        Or memorize poetry. I’m currently memorizing Wm Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience in their entirety. I know about 20 poems so far and recite nearly all of them before I go to sleep each night. Good for dreaming and idea generation.

      2. Anonymous says:

        Yeah, I think one of the kindest things you can do for your noddle is to learn a new language.

        Or memorize poetry. I’m currently memorizing Wm Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience in their entirety. I know about 20 poems so far and recite nearly all of them before I go to sleep each night. Good for dreaming and idea generation.

      3. Anonymous says:

        Yeah, I think one of the kindest things you can do for your noddle is to learn a new language.

        Or memorize poetry. I’m currently memorizing Wm Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience in their entirety. I know about 20 poems so far and recite nearly all of them before I go to sleep each night. Good for dreaming and idea generation.

      4. Anonymous says:

        Yeah, I think one of the kindest things you can do for your noddle is to learn a new language.

        Or memorize poetry. I’m currently memorizing Wm Blake’s Song of Innocence and Songs of Experience in their entirety. I know about 20 poems so far and recite nearly all of them before I go to sleep each night. Good for dreaming and idea generation.

      5. RoofusKit says:

        No harm at all! Especially when it’s useful right now. I was more commenting on all the future predictions. I was trying my best to be realistic without coming off as a China hater.

        1. Anonymous says:

          i have a good track record, stop back in 5 years :)

        2. Anonymous says:

          i have a good track record, stop back in 5 years :)

    2. Ken says:

      @RoofusKit – Aren’t you getting china and america mixed up?  The Chinese economy is built on actual growth and production, whereas our economy is built on artificial inflation of markets that shouldn’t be nearly as large as they are.  Not to mention all the debt we hold with china…   I’d like to see your justifications for your statement.

      1. RoofusKit says:

        They’ve been creating a land bubble unlike any you can imagine. They’ve been falsely inflating their economy by creating housing that no one needs or can afford. Entire cities are erected and left vacant. Meanwhile well to do businessmen are sharing apartments and bathrooms with 10-20 others. It’s simply not sustainable on a social or economic level.

        1. Alex Moen says:

          You don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’m sure you’ve never actually stepped foot inside China.

          Yes, there is a bit of a housing/construction bubble, but 1) it’s
          already paid for, and is thus reinvesting in its people, and 2) it’s
          part of a grander picture China has for the future.  Whether that picture
          will pan out remains to be seen.

          But, you’re blatantly lying about well-to-do businessmen sharing
          apartments with 10-20 others.  My Chinese ex just got her first job out of
          college, with no experience, and lives on her own.  In fact, everyone I
          knew there either lived on their own, or with their families.  And,
          although some families rolled 3 or so generations deep into a small (by
          US standards) apartment, it was more a function of their culture rather
          than a forced fiscal position.  Mind you, this is also in Shanghai-
          arguably China’s most expensive city.

          Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still find poverty, especially the farther
          west you head; but it’s not nearly the all-encompassing poverty that you
          and others seem to portray.

          And, China’s economy is not inflated- quite the opposite.  Their
          currency is extremely undervalued, and this is often blamed by western
          countries for causing this widespread recession.

          Does China have its problems?  Hell yes.  Will it take over the world? 
          Who knows- but it is almost certainly not going to collapse in on itself
          and fall off the face of the Earth anytime soon.

          1. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          2. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          3. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          4. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          5. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          6. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          7. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

          8. I think the truth lies somewhere in between.  If you visit the big cities of China you’ll first notice that there are construction cranes *everywhere*.  It’s got the highest density of cranes anywhere, and that much construction implies a lot of capital.  Then, if you happen to get off one of those flights that lands in the early evening, you’ll find yourself immediately temporally disoriented: all of those building are completely dark.  That makes it intuitively feel like its midnight or later, after most people are asleep.  But no: it’s just that all of those buildings are unoccupied.  It’s really freaky, actually.  There’s definitely a large lag between supply and demand in the housing market, and this is obvious just driving around a big city.

            It remains to be seen how the situation will develop.

        2. Alex Moen says:

          You don’t know what you’re talking about, and I’m sure you’ve never actually stepped foot inside China.

          Yes, there is a bit of a housing/construction bubble, but 1) it’s
          already paid for, and is thus reinvesting in its people, and 2) it’s
          part of a grander picture China has for the future.  Whether that picture
          will pan out remains to be seen.

          But, you’re blatantly lying about well-to-do businessmen sharing
          apartments with 10-20 others.  My Chinese ex just got her first job out of
          college, with no experience, and lives on her own.  In fact, everyone I
          knew there either lived on their own, or with their families.  And,
          although some families rolled 3 or so generations deep into a small (by
          US standards) apartment, it was more a function of their culture rather
          than a forced fiscal position.  Mind you, this is also in Shanghai-
          arguably China’s most expensive city.

          Don’t get me wrong, you’ll still find poverty, especially the farther
          west you head; but it’s not nearly the all-encompassing poverty that you
          and others seem to portray.

          And, China’s economy is not inflated- quite the opposite.  Their
          currency is extremely undervalued, and this is often blamed by western
          countries for causing this widespread recession.

          Does China have its problems?  Hell yes.  Will it take over the world? 
          Who knows- but it is almost certainly not going to collapse in on itself
          and fall off the face of the Earth anytime soon.

    3. mad_scientist says:

      China’s economy will almost certainly go through a melt down like Japan did in 1989 and South Korea did in the mid 90s.
      The parallels are almost identical except on a much larger scale.
      Then there’s India which is not saddled by a government that demands to own 51% of the factory and large chunk of India’s population knows English which will make doing business easier.

      I think India will be the next big thing in Asia.

  2. Spectacular job, Phil. I like your pragmatic approach about the future and completely agree. I also look at it like this: Assume manufacturing DOES somehow move back to the US in the future (or becomes more localized in general, due to future energy/transport costs). There are still over a billion people that speak this language. How is that NOT a good thing? Thanks for the resources!

    1. Anonymous says:

      thanks chris!

    2. About the manufacturing moving back to the West, if you can you should take an hour and watch this http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b0125v5h/Made_in_Britain_Episode_1/ 
      While not about the US it’s quite an intereasting take on the loss of the UK’s manufacturing industry to China.

    3. Exactly.  If we do manage to grow our manufacturing economy in the US again we’re still dealing with a world economy. Instead of looking at China as a cheap labor pool we need to instead look at it as a gigantic mass of potential customers.  Sure, only a small percentage of their population has a decent enough income to take advantage of high-priced goods, but consider that that small percentage still amounts to millions of people.  We just need to do our best to not take advantage of their comparatively lax regulations while avoiding being left behind as their economy takes off.

      1. Anonymous says:

        @facebook-1287158951:disqus yah, there are customers there – and i think we (USA) design the best stuff, i am looking forward to have a hit product there!

  3. So what’s the term for a weeaboo that subs Japan with China? Does China even have any animu and mango?

    1. My weeaborian friends call them chuugokuboos.

    2. My weeaborian friends call them chuugokuboos.

    3. My weeaborian friends call them chuugokuboos.

  4. Gene says:

    @Phillip Torrone: Have you ever read the book “The 4 Hour Work Week” by Tim Ferriss?  Part of his book is about learning another language.  If you haven’t read it yet, you should check it out. He is very insightful and well versed on the subject.

    1. Anonymous says:

      yup! i read it, i think tim’s stuff works for some (maybe even a lot of people) but for language learning i needed to experiment on my own. his learn x % to get x results is used in a lot of language learning so there are bits that i am likely using without realizing it.

  5. Anonymous says:

    20 years ago, Japanese was the language to learn. Hindi or Indonesian might be next.

    I have enough trouble keeping up with new computer languages and environments.

    1. Anonymous says:

      i think about 20 years ago japan exported more electronics than china right? that is not the case now for sure.

    2. Anonymous says:

      i think about 20 years ago japan exported more electronics than china right? that is not the case now for sure.

      1. 影月 says:

        That’s an odd way to measure things. Just becasue things are produced in China doesn’t mean they were invented or designed in China. Are you are counting every device designed in Japan, sold through a Japanese company/brand name, but produced in China to be Chinese?

        1. Anonymous says:

          if it’s made in china, well, it’s made in china – we all know things are designed in cupertino, but the actual making of things, very high tech things, seems to be happening in china mostly, right?

    3. Anonymous says:

      i think about 20 years ago japan exported more electronics than china right? that is not the case now for sure.

  6. in couple of years you have a chance to visit a ceremony of opening of Chinese-Finland border…

  7. Eric Daniels says:

    I spent a half-year in Hong Kong helping supervise 60 animators, very few of whom spoke English — and my employer sent me there without hiring a translator. Nice. So I had to learn me some Cantonese, and quick. Cantonese has nine tones, and I’ve heard that even speakers of other tonal languages consider it daunting. I kept a daily blog of the experience, and here’s my favorite language-related entry (it’s even interactive!):

    http://home.earthlink.net/~edaniels/Entries/day15.html
    (Note: the blog’s frame-based html is terribly outdated, so I’m linking you to a single panel. If you’re interested, you can hack the URL to get back up to the main page, but I warn you, it’s not a pretty sight. Or site.)

  8. Eric Daniels says:

    I spent a half-year in Hong Kong helping supervise 60 animators, very few of whom spoke English — and my employer sent me there without hiring a translator. Nice. So I had to learn me some Cantonese, and quick. Cantonese has nine tones, and I’ve heard that even speakers of other tonal languages consider it daunting. I kept a daily blog of the experience, and here’s my favorite language-related entry (it’s even interactive!):

    http://home.earthlink.net/~edaniels/Entries/day15.html
    (Note: the blog’s frame-based html is terribly outdated, so I’m linking you to a single panel. If you’re interested, you can hack the URL to get back up to the main page, but I warn you, it’s not a pretty sight. Or site.)

  9. daniel rich says:

    chinesepod rocks. I’m not sure where your chinese level is but I mostly use the intermediate to upper intermediate lessons, with sometimes an advanced to strain and it really is an excellent resource. I lived in taiwan for a few years and have many friends that also study chinese and I know for more advanced learners chinesepod is one of the best resources out there.

    1. David Lancashire says:

      You might want to try Popup Chinese (popupchinese.com) as well. A lot of people swear by it, especially more advanced users. See:

      http://popupchinese.com/lessons/intermediate/cosplay-jiang-zemin

    2. David Lancashire says:

      You might want to try Popup Chinese (popupchinese.com) as well. A lot of people swear by it, especially more advanced users. See:

      http://popupchinese.com/lessons/intermediate/cosplay-jiang-zemin

      1. daniel rich says:

        Interesting. The site looks good I will have to check it out tonight when I get home

      2. I am one of those people who swear by Popup Chinese :-). You can download the whole podcast archive for free and listen to it for sheer entertainment value, like you would to a radio show.

      3. I am one of those people who swear by Popup Chinese :-). You can download the whole podcast archive for free and listen to it for sheer entertainment value, like you would to a radio show.

  10. HomeyDaClown says:

    Hmmmm…Because China will own us all in a few years?

  11. HomeyDaClown says:

    Hmmmm…Because China will own us all in a few years?

    1. Anonymous says:

      technically china already owns most of the US debt, right?

      1. Anonymous says:

        What?  Not even close.  The US owns most of it’s debt.

        http://seekingalpha.com/article/246958-guess-who-owns-the-most-u-s-debt-not-china

        1. Anonymous says:

          @jasno:disqus  oh c’mon, you know we all mean *besides* the US. it’s china…

          “US debt holdings: $895.6 billion – CHINA
          The largest foreign holder of US Treasury securities, China
          currently holds $895.6 billion in American debt, although it is down
          from all time highs of $929 billion one year earlier in November 2009.”

          1. Anonymous says:

            “technically china already owns most of the US debt, right?”

            Which one could interpret as an assertion that China owns more than 50% of the US debt.  Even if you meant to say that China owns more than 50% of the foreign owned debt, you’d still be wrong.  According to the link I provided, foreigners own about 31.8% of the total debt.  China owns 7.5% of the total debt.

            China doesn’t even come close to owning the majority of the foreign held debt.

            Yes, they are the largest single holder of foreign owned debt, in that no other single country owns that much US debt, but what they own is still a very small percentage of the total.

          2. Anonymous says:

            @jasno:disqus you are correct “Yes, they are the largest single holder of foreign owned debt, in that no other single country owns that much US debt”…

            “US debt holdings: $895.6 billion – CHINA
            The largest foreign holder of US Treasury securities, China
            currently holds $895.6 billion in American debt, although it is down
            from all time highs of $929 billion one year earlier in November 2009.”

          3. Anonymous says:

            “technically china already owns most of the US debt, right?”

            Which one could interpret as an assertion that China owns more than 50% of the US debt.  Even if you meant to say that China owns more than 50% of the foreign owned debt, you’d still be wrong.  According to the link I provided, foreigners own about 31.8% of the total debt.  China owns 7.5% of the total debt.

            China doesn’t even come close to owning the majority of the foreign held debt.

            Yes, they are the largest single holder of foreign owned debt, in that no other single country owns that much US debt, but what they own is still a very small percentage of the total.

        2. Anonymous says:

          @jasno:disqus  oh c’mon, you know we all mean *besides* the US. it’s china…

          “US debt holdings: $895.6 billion – CHINA
          The largest foreign holder of US Treasury securities, China
          currently holds $895.6 billion in American debt, although it is down
          from all time highs of $929 billion one year earlier in November 2009.”

        3. Anonymous says:

          @jasno:disqus  oh c’mon, you know we all mean *besides* the US. it’s china…

          “US debt holdings: $895.6 billion – CHINA
          The largest foreign holder of US Treasury securities, China
          currently holds $895.6 billion in American debt, although it is down
          from all time highs of $929 billion one year earlier in November 2009.”

    2. Anonymous says:

      technically china already owns most of the US debt, right?

  12. Jap Doll says:

    From the example of the Pleco, you are learning the chinese from Beijing and not the Mandarin Chinese which is the official one ! The difference is not huge but exist – be aware.

    1. Anonymous says:

      quickie screenshot, sorry!

    2. Anonymous says:

      quickie screenshot, sorry!

    3. Anonymous says:

      quickie screenshot, sorry!

    4. Anonymous says:

      quickie screenshot, sorry!

    5. Anonymous says:

      quickie screenshot, sorry!

  13. Jap Doll says:

    From the example of the Pleco, you are learning the chinese from Beijing and not the Mandarin Chinese which is the official one ! The difference is not huge but exist – be aware.

  14. Dave says:

    You might be interested in this book for you restaurant visits:

    The Eater’s Guide to Chinese Charactersby James D. McCawley

    http://goo.gl/RjLVg (amazon link)

  15. Olle Linge says:

    Excellent article! I started learning Chinese myself four years ago and I have studied full-time since then. I might not have reached a native-like level yet, but I dare say that I’m fluent. I also have people asking my why I want to learn Chinese when it’s so hard. I think you answers are quite good, but I also think the attitude of the people asking this question is wrong. Chinese isn’t hard. Well, of course, if you want to view it as weird, complicated and impossible to learn, sure, then it’s possible to live in China for fifteen years without learning more than basic conversation.

    I do think that fluency can be achieved a lot faster than four years though, provided people would stop and think about what methods they use. Your post is a good start, You give several good suggestions. I would suggest another application which is very versatile and also completely free (unless you use iPhone). It’s called Anki and I have argued why I think it’s a good program here: http://www.hackingchinese.com/?p=239. Far too many people don’t pay enough attention to the way they are learning and how to learn efficiently. Unfortunately, teachers and textbook authors seldom help. They teach you Chinese, but they don’t teach you how to learn Chinese. This is probably because most of them are native speakers and don’t understand what challenges we meet as foreigners trying to learn Chinese and how to overcome them.

    For this very reason, I’ve started a website called Hacking Chinese, where present what I think is missing from textbooks and classrooms, a comprehensive guide on how to learn Chinese efficiently. It matters greatly how you go about learning words (using apps and programs like those you suggest is one important piece in the puzzle), how you practice speaking, reading and so on. If anyone is interested, please have a look at http://www.hackingchinese.com/. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to be as hard as some people think, you just need the right attitude and the right strategy.

    1. +1 for Anki. Learning Chinese characters is not all that difficult with the right system. Tuttle’s book “Learning Chinese Characters” has 800 characters decomposed into individual components and gives you a method to memorize their meaning and prononciation. I was doing one lesson per day for 20 days and learned about 400 characters (this requires devoting two hours daily to the activity). Anki already has flashcards for this book, making practicing very convenient. After about 500 characters I stopped to focus more on spoken language; now that I’ve discovered Anki, I am working towards finishing the book.

  16. Olle Linge says:

    Excellent article! I started learning Chinese myself four years ago and I have studied full-time since then. I might not have reached a native-like level yet, but I dare say that I’m fluent. I also have people asking my why I want to learn Chinese when it’s so hard. I think you answers are quite good, but I also think the attitude of the people asking this question is wrong. Chinese isn’t hard. Well, of course, if you want to view it as weird, complicated and impossible to learn, sure, then it’s possible to live in China for fifteen years without learning more than basic conversation.

    I do think that fluency can be achieved a lot faster than four years though, provided people would stop and think about what methods they use. Your post is a good start, You give several good suggestions. I would suggest another application which is very versatile and also completely free (unless you use iPhone). It’s called Anki and I have argued why I think it’s a good program here: http://www.hackingchinese.com/?p=239. Far too many people don’t pay enough attention to the way they are learning and how to learn efficiently. Unfortunately, teachers and textbook authors seldom help. They teach you Chinese, but they don’t teach you how to learn Chinese. This is probably because most of them are native speakers and don’t understand what challenges we meet as foreigners trying to learn Chinese and how to overcome them.

    For this very reason, I’ve started a website called Hacking Chinese, where present what I think is missing from textbooks and classrooms, a comprehensive guide on how to learn Chinese efficiently. It matters greatly how you go about learning words (using apps and programs like those you suggest is one important piece in the puzzle), how you practice speaking, reading and so on. If anyone is interested, please have a look at http://www.hackingchinese.com/. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to be as hard as some people think, you just need the right attitude and the right strategy.

  17. Olle Linge says:

    Excellent article! I started learning Chinese myself four years ago and I have studied full-time since then. I might not have reached a native-like level yet, but I dare say that I’m fluent. I also have people asking my why I want to learn Chinese when it’s so hard. I think you answers are quite good, but I also think the attitude of the people asking this question is wrong. Chinese isn’t hard. Well, of course, if you want to view it as weird, complicated and impossible to learn, sure, then it’s possible to live in China for fifteen years without learning more than basic conversation.

    I do think that fluency can be achieved a lot faster than four years though, provided people would stop and think about what methods they use. Your post is a good start, You give several good suggestions. I would suggest another application which is very versatile and also completely free (unless you use iPhone). It’s called Anki and I have argued why I think it’s a good program here: http://www.hackingchinese.com/?p=239. Far too many people don’t pay enough attention to the way they are learning and how to learn efficiently. Unfortunately, teachers and textbook authors seldom help. They teach you Chinese, but they don’t teach you how to learn Chinese. This is probably because most of them are native speakers and don’t understand what challenges we meet as foreigners trying to learn Chinese and how to overcome them.

    For this very reason, I’ve started a website called Hacking Chinese, where present what I think is missing from textbooks and classrooms, a comprehensive guide on how to learn Chinese efficiently. It matters greatly how you go about learning words (using apps and programs like those you suggest is one important piece in the puzzle), how you practice speaking, reading and so on. If anyone is interested, please have a look at http://www.hackingchinese.com/. Learning Chinese doesn’t have to be as hard as some people think, you just need the right attitude and the right strategy.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Great post Phil! I think you’ve convinced me that this will be more beneficial than spending my limited free time on learning Japanese (something I’ve wanted to do since I was in college). I’m curious if you have any resources for any Mandarin-centric maker websites or blogs?

    1. Anonymous says:

      hmm, no maker-centric ones, but i’d like to know if there are. you can pick up make (chinese edition) too, that’s been fun for me to look at.

      1. There’s a hackerspace in Shanghai called 新车间. http://xinchejian.com/ Great bunch of guys.

        Nice one on Chinese btw. I grew bored of my career and decided to go back to university to study Chinese. It’s a rabbit hole that goes as far as you want. I’m quite surprised there’s no love for Skritter here. Then again, lots of hobbyist learners don’t need to learn how to write by hand so it’s probably not a big deal.

        It’s probably the most ‘wow man’ skill you can acquire though. People are forever asking me to write things in Chinese.

      2. I’ve bought pirated copies of it (Make Magazine, and the books in English) on Taobao – they were *good* copies too.  Seller was a complete asshole though for various reasons. 
        eg http://item.taobao.com/item.htm?id=9189422835Would have bought originals, but either out of stock, or hard to find, especially in China.
        Have bought Chinese editions too, but again on Taobao.

    2. Anonymous says:

      hmm, no maker-centric ones, but i’d like to know if there are. you can pick up make (chinese edition) too, that’s been fun for me to look at.

    3. Anonymous says:

      hmm, no maker-centric ones, but i’d like to know if there are. you can pick up make (chinese edition) too, that’s been fun for me to look at.

  19. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article, both positive and motivating.  I particularly like that you can present the economic rise of China without turning it into some sort of Disaster That Must Be Avoided At All Costs.  On the downside, you can kiss goodbye to your career as a cable news anchor.

    And thanks for pointing out memrise, that seems like an awesome tool.  I think I’ll try to get my own little Japanese garden up and running there.  The game aspect is wonderful.  Or scary.  I’m not entirely sure which.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article, both positive and motivating.  I particularly like that you can present the economic rise of China without turning it into some sort of Disaster That Must Be Avoided At All Costs.  On the downside, you can kiss goodbye to your career as a cable news anchor.

    And thanks for pointing out memrise, that seems like an awesome tool.  I think I’ll try to get my own little Japanese garden up and running there.  The game aspect is wonderful.  Or scary.  I’m not entirely sure which.

    1. Anonymous says:

      thanks bruce. agree! the future is only scary if you chose not be part of it!

      1. Anonymous says:

        Or as Firesign Theater put it: “The future — live it or live with it!”

  21. I’m in a similar situation, I live in China though, and have done for 15+ years.
    More recently I’ve been hacking hardware.  I’ve built my own projector, reverse engineered software, built arcade machines and more.  http://www.computersolutions.cn/blog for some of that.I usually find that no-one talks to each other.  Eg the factory sales people don’t communicate properly with the engineers, the clients don’t talk to the end users etc.  I’m busy reverse engineering some decent hardware ipcam with adequate software over at http://www.openipcam.com at the moment just so I can get past that, and put in features that I want.  Since I opened that site, I’ve had a number of enquiries from others wanting customized stuff too, so there is money to be made in open source despite the naysayers.  Ironically the software is mainly built on open source, so mostly should be open, but telling a chinese software company they should give away their prized assets is a lesson in denial.

    As for Chinese studies - I designed and made a few sets of fridge magnets with english, chinese and pinyin on, and I’ve had great feedback – plus they’ve sold like hotcakes  http://www.fridgelingo.com Next time you’re in Shanghai drop me a line, and I’ll send you some.

  22. Great article.  I have been waiting over 10 years for my in-laws to learn english, so i guess it’s time for me to learn chinese.  The Memrise site really is great. It’s way easier than just memorizing from flash cards.

  23. Great article.  I have been waiting over 10 years for my in-laws to learn english, so i guess it’s time for me to learn chinese.  The Memrise site really is great. It’s way easier than just memorizing from flash cards.

  24. Anonymous says:

    You do know that most of the technical documentation and design sheets for all those electronic components are in English right? And this isn’t going to change.

    Mandarin is broken for computers, like all pictographic languages. This also isn’t going to change. The PRC is busy making their own alphabet-Chinese hack (like Kanji). Really, the only reason for China not to switch to English as the official language is cultural pride on the part of Chinese.

    1. Sometimes it helps if you do a little research.  Kanji are the chinese characters that japan uses, you probably meant either hiragana or katakana.  As well there already is a chinese alphabet with similar strokes to katakana, it’s widely used in childrens books written on the side of the characters and is invaluable for pronounciation as memorizing the meaning is the easy part.  as well chinese keyboards are @asy to come by with several input methods, hell you can even just write directly on a tablet.  In short, i’m not sure why you are commenting as you seem to be ignorant of the whole subject.

      1. Anonymous says:

        You’re partly correct, I think you’re referring to zhuyin phonetic system, which would be the approximate equivalent of katakana.  Zhuyin is used mostly in Taiwan.  In the mainland, pinyin is the standard phonetic system in use, and uses the latin alphabet instead of strokes.  Pinyin is the standard way to enter Chinese using a regular latin keyboard (no special keyboard required!).  The Japanese counterpart of pinyin would be Hepburn or Kunrei-shiki romaji.

        Pinyin as an input method is prolific enough throughout the world that Google release their own Chinese input method (http://www.google.com/intl/zh-CN/ime/pinyin/), and I would highly recommend it over Window’s built-in pinyin IME.

    2. Anonymous says:

      I’m not sure how you can say that.  Are you saying that the hundreds of millions of chinese people who use the computer every day can’t input chinese?  The “alphabet Chinese hack” that you mention has been around for around 60 years, is widely established, and is just one of several ways to input Chinese using a standard keyboard.

  25. Anonymous says:

    Don’t forget to join Weibo (the “Chinese Twitter”), which is a great way to interact with 200M+ others.  

    Download the (free) iPhone Weibo app app and set the language to English in order to familiarize yourself with the menus.  Then use the (free) iPad Weibo HD version to really have fun.Follow me and we can learn together: http://weibo.com/2140336255

  26. Anonymous says:

    Don’t forget to join Weibo (the “Chinese Twitter”), which is a great way to interact with 200M+ others.  

    Download the (free) iPhone Weibo app app and set the language to English in order to familiarize yourself with the menus.  Then use the (free) iPad Weibo HD version to really have fun.Follow me and we can learn together: http://weibo.com/2140336255

  27. I have grave misgivings that this old dog can learn a new language, but this is the second time I’ve heard about memrise, so maybe I should give it a try.  

  28. Kurt G says:

    很少看到有愿意学中文的外国人。但我看到的,中文说得都很好,有时都把我吓一跳。Your attitude toward Chinese learning does deserve a lot of encouragement, especially seen from my side, a Chinese native speaker. Yet I can never agree with you on the optimistic speculation that China’s prospective boom will be very sure, which I think most Chinese people will doubt, even reject,  because that’s a  extremely simplified version of a complex issue. If you can live(not merely work) with Chinese ordinary people, understanding what they are chitchatting, what they feel inside, you would experience much more than simply something like “电阻” or FPGA,both are not a sentimental thing.Chinese people do work hard, they have to; you do work hard,you’d like to.

    1. Anonymous says:

      hi kurt! i think together (china and usa) is where the most opportunity is, not as just “place to get things made” but as partners to create together. the more chinese people i meet and talk to, the more i think we’re very much alike.

      the usa and china really do not have any choice i think, we’re “attached at the hip”. we’re both either going to make it, or both, well – not.

      oh, as far as working hard – yes, i like to work, but i am in nyc, if i did not the city would eat me alive and grind me out in a matter of weeks.

      i don’t know all the characters you used, but it looks like you said outsiders do not learn chinese much, but you are surprised (good).

      1. Kurt G says:

        Hi!I simply insist the ones who see the promising future of China should not fail to notice the highly possible crisis in its future transformation. Now China is still a very hierarchical society, and is moving from a pyramid structure to a more olive-shaped society, during which a huge population of middle class would emerge. They surely would call for democracy and free media, etc., which is totally against the current regime. No one can tell the transformation will be smooth, let alone the bubble lies in real estate.

        The feeling that you feel we’re very much alike, I guess, partly may attribute to most Chinese people you contact with is engineering guy or even geeks, right? I’m engineering guy too.

        As for working hard, the Chinese engineers who do want to “make things” usually got cross-fired by both the fast changing tech & commercial environment AND “shanzhai” companies who copycat everything. Being creative in China is luxurious.

        While your translation of my “pictures” is close to what I mean, allow me to translate myself: It’s very rare to find a foreigner who would like to try to learn Chinese. But whoever I met do speak Chinese, he/she speaks fluently, which sometimes startles me.

        By the way, Google Translate of both Chin-Eng and Eng-Chin functions are far from maturity, hence cannot be trusted but for reference only, in my opinion.

      2. Kurt G says:

        Hi!I simply insist the ones who see the promising future of China should not fail to notice the highly possible crisis in its future transformation. Now China is still a very hierarchical society, and is moving from a pyramid structure to a more olive-shaped society, during which a huge population of middle class would emerge. They surely would call for democracy and free media, etc., which is totally against the current regime. No one can tell the transformation will be smooth, let alone the bubble lies in real estate.

        The feeling that you feel we’re very much alike, I guess, partly may attribute to most Chinese people you contact with is engineering guy or even geeks, right? I’m engineering guy too.

        As for working hard, the Chinese engineers who do want to “make things” usually got cross-fired by both the fast changing tech & commercial environment AND “shanzhai” companies who copycat everything. Being creative in China is luxurious.

        While your translation of my “pictures” is close to what I mean, allow me to translate myself: It’s very rare to find a foreigner who would like to try to learn Chinese. But whoever I met do speak Chinese, he/she speaks fluently, which sometimes startles me.

        By the way, Google Translate of both Chin-Eng and Eng-Chin functions are far from maturity, hence cannot be trusted but for reference only, in my opinion.

        1. Anonymous says:

          @google-694395b3d13adfee737d721ef7ee7543:disqus it’s true, i think everyone knows a more free and open china is ahead. will it be like the unrest in the middle east? or will be slow and gradual? no way to know, but china tends to be in it for the long run and i think the collective fate of all of us rests in china’s ability to navigate these changes.

        2. Jacob Kjær says:

          What is an olive-shaped society?

          Great article by the way!

          1. Kurt G says:

            olive-shaped? A structure looks like below:
                                               very rich
                                        m i d d l e – c l a s s
                                        m i d d l e – c l a s s
                                        m i d d l e – c l a s s
                                                  poor          
            namely most people are neither too rich to spend their money reasonably like pathetic Paris Hilton, nor too poor to live a life with dignity.

          2. Kurt G says:

            olive-shaped? A structure looks like below:
                                               very rich
                                        m i d d l e – c l a s s
                                        m i d d l e – c l a s s
                                        m i d d l e – c l a s s
                                                  poor          
            namely most people are neither too rich to spend their money reasonably like pathetic Paris Hilton, nor too poor to live a life with dignity.

    2. Anonymous says:

      hi kurt! i think together (china and usa) is where the most opportunity is, not as just “place to get things made” but as partners to create together. the more chinese people i meet and talk to, the more i think we’re very much alike.

      the usa and china really do not have any choice i think, we’re “attached at the hip”. we’re both either going to make it, or both, well – not.

      oh, as far as working hard – yes, i like to work, but i am in nyc, if i did not the city would eat me alive and grind me out in a matter of weeks.

      i don’t know all the characters you used, but it looks like you said outsiders do not learn chinese much, but you are surprised (good).

    3. Anonymous says:

      hi kurt! i think together (china and usa) is where the most opportunity is, not as just “place to get things made” but as partners to create together. the more chinese people i meet and talk to, the more i think we’re very much alike.

      the usa and china really do not have any choice i think, we’re “attached at the hip”. we’re both either going to make it, or both, well – not.

      oh, as far as working hard – yes, i like to work, but i am in nyc, if i did not the city would eat me alive and grind me out in a matter of weeks.

      i don’t know all the characters you used, but it looks like you said outsiders do not learn chinese much, but you are surprised (good).

  29. I live in Hong Kong, and I’ve been learning Cantonese for the last seven months.  It’s similar-ish to mandarin (the difference between the two languages is like the difference between spanish and french).  One of my favorite things about the language has been learning to read and write.  This is the first language I’ve ever learned that doesn’t have a phonetic writing system, so I can’t read a word I see on the street and know what it sounds like.  The neat thing about Chinese, though, is that I can read a sentence and understand it, even if I can’t pronounce it.  
    Once I started to learn to read, walking around the streets in Hong Kong became a giant code-breaking exercise.  I don’t know the majority of the characters I see, but they’re made of basic components that give you clues as to the meaning of the character.  Sometimes the characters are ideograms (if you put the symbol for ‘woman’ in between two symbols for ‘men,’ you get a character that means ‘angry’), sometimes they’re simplified drawings of a concept (the character for ‘big’ looks like a guy standing up with his arms spread wide), and sometimes they’re super abstract, or the character has evolved so much over the years that it’s impossible for me to guess the meaning just by looking at it.
    One book I found on Chinese writing that quickly became addicting is Marshall Cavendish’s series, “Fun With Chinese Characters.”  They have editions for simplified and traditional writing, and for a given character, they break the character down into its sub-characters and describe how each part contributes to the meaning, as well as showing what the original character looked like, thousands of years ago, and how it’s morphed over time.  For some abstract characters, it’ll also give a written description of the story or concept the character is describing.  Thinking of characters this way is much more fun for me than just tracing and memorizing shapes, and I’m learning much more rapidly and retaining much more. When I think of the character for “lawsuit,” I remember that the character represents two dogs barking words at each other, and it’s easy for me to go from this intermediate concept to reading or writing the relatively complex character.  For words I see and use regularly, I tend to skip over this intermediate step, and native chinese speakers never think of characters this way, but I’ve found it an amazingly fun and useful way to attack the daunting problem of learning thousand of intricate symbols, and I definitely recommend it to anyone starting to learn written Chinese.

  30. Neil Pridgeon says:

    I use translation daily.  While Google Translate is the most accurate I’ve found, I use http://www.mdbg.net for my daily translation.  It uses Google Translate as it’s back-end, with the added benefit of showing each character (or character pairs) with detailed explanations of the word and it’s many possible meanings, and also includes the ability to listen to individual words or characters.  It is indispensable for avoiding translation errors.  

  31. Nice read, as I’ve started to learn basic spoken Mandarin. It’s quite frustrating, but I think it will be good in the long term.

  32. How do you suggest that Chine sling shot itself out of dictatorship to a democratic world without turning into a steaming fireball of chaos? So far no government in the history of the world managed this without some equalizing revolution. China has greater injustice between its people than most other countries. Western people learning Chinese will surely accelerate the domestic problems with explaining to the citizens why all is well and fair.

    1. Anonymous says:

      every country has its challenges, not too long ago the US had a civil war.

    2. Huh? Just off the top of my head, I can think of two countries that went from dictatorship to democracy without a revolution: Russia and Brazil. Sure, it hasn’t been perfect, but far from a revolution. If the dictatorship wants it to happen, it can put all the elements necessary for democracy into place (i.e. political and election systems) before changing.

      1. Anonymous says:

        Russia? Is that the country run by former KGB officers, where regime critics routinely turn up dead? Russia has elections. So do Cuba and Iran.

    3. Huh? Just off the top of my head, I can think of two countries that went from dictatorship to democracy without a revolution: Russia and Brazil. Sure, it hasn’t been perfect, but far from a revolution. If the dictatorship wants it to happen, it can put all the elements necessary for democracy into place (i.e. political and election systems) before changing.

    4. South Africa went through some radical changes with (relatively) little perturbations to domestic production.
      It is certainly sad for the family of each individual that perished during the end to Apartheid process, but taken from a distance, the statistics aren’t bad at all, when one takes into account the magnitude of the changes.

  33. Bill Kerney says:

    Zhongwen.com is another great resource for learning Mandarin. Probably my #1 site.

  34. Bill Kerney says:

    Zhongwen.com is another great resource for learning Mandarin. Probably my #1 site.

  35. Yang Pei says:

    I’m having a hard time translating what I think into Chinese when I speak with my wife. I can’t wait till I move back to China again and get a second culture shock.

    I’m originally Chinese, but grew up in Germany, attended international school in China (learning English and Mandarin Chinese at the same time) and currently live and work in London, so I think that even if you can speak Chinese, it still doesn’t mean that you can easily bridge the cultural gap sometimes.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I’ll second that.  Though while I don’t need to translate while speaking Chinese, my lack of vocabulary means I usually end up speaking in broken chinglish.

  36. Anonymous says:

    just order a chinese person, it’s cheap and you will have a fulltime person to pratice with. :-D

  37. Anonymous says:

    just order a chinese person, it’s cheap and you will have a fulltime person to pratice with. :-D

  38. Anonymous says:

    just order a chinese person, it’s cheap and you will have a fulltime person to pratice with. :-D

  39. Anonymous says:

    I propose a solution, or “hack” if you will, to those who find learning Chinese too difficult, but still want to benefit from being able to converse with Chinese suppliers or sellers: pair up with a Chinese-speaking maker!

  40. Anonymous says:

    Has anyone tried Rosetta Stone? I know it’s expensive, but does it work well for Mandarin? I’ve read varying reviews depending on the language.

  41. pan shuang says:

    你们好,我爱制作。

  42. bryan kirby says:

    Germany with 81 million citizens manufactures $670 billion USD. 

    Japan with 171 million manufactures $926 billion USD.   
     
    With 300 million citizens, the USA manufactures $1,717 billion USD

    China with 1.33 billion citizens manufactures $1,608 billion USD 

    China’s progress is epic, and in a couple of decades their manufacturing output per citizen may match either the US, Japan and / or Germany.

    Brazil’s 193 millions make $206 billion USD of goods with a manufacturing growth rate of 4.3 percent this last year.  

    And the beaches are much, much nicer.

  43. bryan kirby says:

    Germany with 81 million citizens manufactures $670 billion USD. 

    Japan with 171 million manufactures $926 billion USD.   
     
    With 300 million citizens, the USA manufactures $1,717 billion USD

    China with 1.33 billion citizens manufactures $1,608 billion USD 

    China’s progress is epic, and in a couple of decades their manufacturing output per citizen may match either the US, Japan and / or Germany.

    Brazil’s 193 millions make $206 billion USD of goods with a manufacturing growth rate of 4.3 percent this last year.  

    And the beaches are much, much nicer.

  44. bryan kirby says:

    Germany with 81 million citizens manufactures $670 billion USD. 

    Japan with 171 million manufactures $926 billion USD.   
     
    With 300 million citizens, the USA manufactures $1,717 billion USD

    China with 1.33 billion citizens manufactures $1,608 billion USD 

    China’s progress is epic, and in a couple of decades their manufacturing output per citizen may match either the US, Japan and / or Germany.

    Brazil’s 193 millions make $206 billion USD of goods with a manufacturing growth rate of 4.3 percent this last year.  

    And the beaches are much, much nicer.

  45. Attempt at Blade Runner translation:  Chinese good, American not

  46. Asia Business Intelligence says:

    It’s always worthwhile to learn another language.  You do not need it in American business, and, frankly, most American business execs do not wish their employees to have a valuable skill they do not possess themselves, unless the employee is Chinese.  At least, IMHO, based upon my own experience, American execs do not feel threatened by Chinese employees, thinking they are capable of containing them to the Chinese business theater. 

    But none of the methods above, alone or in tandem, will get you to the level of fluency I presume you’re looking for.  Yes, you will learn something.  (I’ve spoken mandarin for nearly 30 years now and have seen many methods of instruction.)  The serious language student needs to be present in a Chinese environment, entirely away from English speakers, on a daily basis for a lengthy period of time (how much time depends upon the abilities and drive of the student).

    To understand with any depth the myriad Chinese ideas not present in the English language, but which present themselves every day in Chinese life, one needs to soak up Chinese life by living it, as well as through language learning.  And those ideas can’t really be perceived without seeing them up close.

    You’re welcome to contact me — anyone who reads this, in fact — to discuss this topic further.

    Sincerely,

    Rich Kuslan, Editor
    AsiaBizBlog
    http://www.AsiaBizBlog.com

    1. Asia Business Intelligence says:

      May I ask why my identification paragraph was deleted from this post?  Others have URLs in their posts — why not my clear and true ID? 

      Sincerely,

      Rich Kuslan, Editor
      AsiaBizBlog
      http://www.AsiaBizBlog.com

  47. I’m impressed, Phil. Please update us on your progress over the next couple of years.

    Part of me would like to follow in your footsteps, but learning Chinese would require a lot of time and energy that — in my case — is far better spent developing and marketing products in North America.

    I recognize that I’ll never be fluent enough or aware enough of the nuances of Chinese culture to work there without a skilled interpreter or fluent business partner, and that’s OK.

  48. Anonymous says:

    My path: I like Chinese brush painting, and have started to practice drawing Chinese characters. Big fun to begin to recognize characters! I bought some CD’s and listen in the car sometimes.  I felt the same way about Japanese in the 80′s and learned a little bit of Japanese language, alphabets and and culture. I was working with Japanese people at the time, and it was very rewarding.  I agree with the need to learn Chinese now. Your article is inspiring me to get back on it. Thanks for the article! 

  49. China Bonding says:

    As an expat in Shanghai, can I put in a reccomendation for Chinesepod.com as well?

    China is growing fast because it had nothing 20yrs ago…getting 1billion+ people from
    nothing to close to modern living standards in a short time = lots of growth.

    Hard to predict where the plateau will be … anyone remember when the Japanese were
    going to take over the economic world? 

    1. Anonymous says:

      @google-c106203880e98be0d801865fbbd6d674:disqus japan was #2 and is still an economic power house, learning a bit of japanese helped me about 10 years ago or so, i suspect chinese will do the same…

  50. Is it so? I do no all this before, Olie Linge, I have gone through your website, gave a glance. Hope it helps me. I have to start learning Chinese. 

    I am not so sure, how good I shall become in this language. 

    This is an excellent article on the Chinese language. I liked the topic flow, the way you choose to order the content is very good. 

  51. Anonymous says:

    For anyone with an interest not just in how China will fare in the next 10 years but countries around the world, check out “The Next Decade” by George Friedman.  Worth taking the time to read, IMO… and a real eye-opener for doom-and-gloomers down on US.

  52. Brian Mohr says:

    Interesting, but I’d imagine about 25-30 years ago Japanese could have been substituted for Chinese in the title (think Blade Runner). This is what I remember talking about and thinking way back then. I frequently find it interesting projecting into the future, but rarely is anyone correct….just when you don’t expect it some major issue derails the projection and the future tracks in a new direction. Also, what about India?

  53. mad_scientist says:

    Dumb article not even worth the electrons to covey it.
    20 years ago we were supposed to learn Japanese because they were going to be running everything.
    Maybe we should learn Hindi and Korean too since India is big in programming and Korea in robotics.
    Those manufacturing jobs in China can move over night.
    Ten years from now it could be more important to learn Malay.

  54. Boris Ivanov says:

    Hallo
    Im software developer and found your article very interested. I can recommend site where you can find free chinese talkers or affordable Chinese teachers.It is http://www.italki.com.Have fun.

  55. 张晓锋 says:

    People  is the world in the future, we can go to the United States,  England or Arab countries, but first we have to do is learn their languages, you certainly don’t want when travel in this country can’t find restaurants, hotel or bus stop , the Chinese people are trying to learn the foreign culture, as foreigners are learning the Chinese language .Phillip Torrone  you can study the chinese form  the web http://www.glchinese.com 

  56. Brandon says:

    Hi Phllip – I wanted to chime in on the resources question.  I started learning Chinese after arriving in Shanghai about 1 year ago.  I have a 1 hour class & supplement it with extensive Chinesepod audio lessons, which I think are really good.  I also tried to make a blog / social network to let people pool all their free resources, tips & discussions to make things easier.  Can see here: http://studymorechinese.com/ – more than 100 blogs & 100 videos, just randomly collected, hopefully building into something more.  

    Specifically for iphone / ipad, you can find members discussing pros & cons of different apps here:
    http://studymorechinese.com/forum/topics/whats-the-best-iphone-ipad

    Good luck with your studying.
    Best regards,
    Brandon

  57. Beijing Ren says:

    Great posts! Especially I liek your personal approach to Chinese learning as not only you just mention the reasons but you did ennumerate the reasons why chinese is important in your industry. Thanks once again!

  58. May I suggest http://www.ichineseflashcards.com (helps you learn Chinese (Mandarin) faster by using flashcards with pictures), thanks

  59. graceemma24 says:

    I think I should start learning Chinese after reading this. Mandarin flash cards ( http://goo.gl/ABnsw ) would help me greatly in learning process.

  60. Oliver says:

    Also check out http://www.chinese-course.com/ my favorite site. :)

  61. You can certainly see your skills within the article you write.
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In the Maker Shed