China is an ancient land—one that seems almost unfathomable to many citizens of the New World. Its people, language, culture, and philosophy have influenced many of its neighbors throughout the ages. Much of East Asia today is referred to as the Chinese Cultural Sphere of Influence. China's culture has been as profound an influence in Asia as Egypt, Greece, and Rome have been in the West.
Learning to understand another culture and another language is a gift you give to yourself. Learning about other cultures, including all their marvelous whos and whys gives us insight into our own culture. Learning another language gives us a unique perspective on the world around us—and even the world that lies within us. The Taoists view life as cyclical, eternal, and constantly renewing. The idea that what goes around comes around is a focal belief in Buddhism. In English we say, “you reap what you sow.”
At one time, in the distant past, the Chinese language represented all aspects of culture in East Asia. Chinese was a language of commerce, communication, and expression. But time passed and things changed, and the Chinese language became less widely spoken. Today, however, it seems it's China's time to rise again. The nation has a booming economy and one of the biggest consumer markets in the world; it's clear that now is a good time to know Chinese.
Chinese is quickly becoming the second most demanded second language in the world, and knowledge of Chinese will become nearly indispensable for business professionals in the next twenty years. After nearly three decades of global isolation the Chinese are not meeting the challenge and opportunity imparted by globalization with timidity and reservation. On the contrary, they are eager to reach out and become contributing members of the global community. To that end, the demand for learning English in a proud but pragmatic China is incredible. English is still the international language of commerce; but before long, we may just see Chinese catch up. By learning Chinese, a Westerner is exposed to dimensions of Chinese culture a non-speaker misses out on. Speaking Chinese in China opens countless doors you may not have ever realized are there. You win an immense amount of respect and admiration from the Chinese when you use their language. Whether you're bargaining, congratulating someone, or apologizing for something by using some of the more formal phrases and expressions, you evoke a certain sense of nostalgia from the Chinese for the classical culture, much of which was suppressed by the Communist Revolution.
Chinese is an extremely colorful and expressive language. Speaking it can seem almost as much an art as it is ability. Likewise, the Chinese language sometimes may seem impossible to learn. The tonal aspect as well as the daunting writing system can seem insurmountable. But have faith and don't be shy about making mistakes. After all, as the Chinese say: “One doesn't catch a tiger cub without venturing into the tiger's den.”