For westerners, learning Mandarin is different from learning other languages in a number of ways. One positive aspect we I will talk about today is the fact that learning Mandarin would make you comparatively unique than learning a different language. Although there are today more and more Chinese people that speak the western modern lingua franca English there are few westerners that can speak to Chinese people on their own terms. That may appear to be rather strange advantage; if communication is already possible, then surely the bridge is all ready there? Why build two bridges across the same river? The reasons that the second bridge is useful are actually plenty.
One reason that does not take into account the cultural effects that are more complicated to effectively communicate in this little article, is the fact that a western education is still vastly more regarded, and justifiably so, in comparison with a Chinese education. Another in the same vein of non-culturally dependent arguments is the fact that although Chinas elite speaks decent English, the vast majority of Chinese people do not speak very good English, certainly not sufficiently to marginalize the benefits experiences by a bilingual westerner living in China. In this same category of ideas we find an even more salient reason: just as there are differences between levels of proficiency in China, there are differences in how Chinese is going to be used by westerners today and in the future.
This trend, which will increase in scope and depth during the coming decade, is the process of shifting China from an export led economy to a balanced economy. Balance here basically means that Chinese people will need to stop saving so much and consumer more. That means that in part western people will need to stop buying so much from China and start selling more. For a western corporation to sell in China, the benefits of bilingual staff is much greater than for a corporation that mainly / just wants to buy. The onus for the communication of ideas is shifted onto the shoulders of the salesman. A westerner can of course still be able to act within a business setting using only English, as we noted, the elite speaks very good English, but the fact remains that the westerner that is able to speak also Mandarin is at an enormous competitive advantage in comparison to his monolingual counterparts.
That takes care of your Chinese opponents in the world of bridge building: you are clearly able to harness immense benefits from the Chinas bright future if you speak Mandarin even if there are many Chinese people also keen on learning you mother tongue. The other bridge builders that you are in direct competition with in terms of uniqueness on the labor market is the people on the same side of the river as you: the people that already speak English.
Europe is the continent that has had most linguistic influence elsewhere, so it makes sense for us to start there. If you are able to fight in the most competitive of arenas, you are also likely to be able to fight in less competitive ones. Almost 50 percent of Europe is fully proficient in English. That means that there are around 240 million Europeans that speak the language that I am writing in now. The second largest group is French and German speakers, each with a solid 20 percent of the population; 88 million in terms of absolute numbers. Learning one of these 2 languages would not make you very unique. The same applies to Spanish 10 percent 44 million people. The remaining languages are smaller, but so are the benefits of learning them for another reason the countries are simply not even close to having a small proportion of the weight that China does today and will have in the future. In contrast, there are actually no readily available statistics on how many Europeans speak Mandarin, but as a proportion it is smaller than a fraction of a percent.
There are many reasons that learning Mandarin is more interesting today than ever before. The ability to distinguish oneself on the labor market is just one of the foremost.