Analysis: KUMBUKILANI PHIRI
IT WAS interesting to see an article about the introduction of Chinese Mandarin language in our schools by the Ministry of Higher Education and for it to be an examinable subject starting from 2020.
According to the statistics by the World Languages and Cultures, a total of 873 million Native Chinese people and another 178 million people worldwide speak Chinese Mandarin which brings the total of Mandarin speakers to 1.051 billion people in the world.
This is by far the most spoken language in the world followed by English at 510 million and Hindi at 410 million people.
The truth is that China has become a very important global leader both economically and technologically for any country to overlook.
Introducing Chinese language in our schools is definitely a very strategic undertaking more especially if properly implemented with support structures that will make it not just another foreign language but one that will create more value for the Zambian people.
Before we go further, perhaps it would be good to reflect on what other foreign languages which were and are taught in our schools have achieved for us to date.
For instance, English is our official language despite it not being our native language. It is a language that we have used in educating ourselves and conducting our day to day business as a country.
Overall almost every Zambian who has gone to school up to Grade Seven understands basic English. English Language has also been very advantageous to Zambia since it is the second most spoken language in the world.
Therefore, it has been very easy for many Zambians to get an education outside the country and also to conduct their businesses. On the other hand, French was the second most taught foreign language in our schools.
At some point it was a very needed language more especially right after the liberation struggles perhaps for us to easily communicate with our Francophone neighbours.
However, it now seems that it is slowly losing its popularity in the country and many schools have since discontinued teaching it due to lack of trainers and others just due to lack of interest by the learners.
So, what’s the importance of learning Chinese Mandarin Language to Zambia now?
Based on the latest report of Focus Economics, the Chinese economy continues to rise.
Domestic and international demand for Chinese products remains strong, and its currency, the Renminbi, has continued to gain more strength.
China is the world’s second largest economy, meaning its international influence is huge. According to the Ministry of Commerce and Trade in Zambia, China is the largest investor in Zambia with more than 280 companies in the country. It is also expected that China will remain an important trade, investment and economic partner for many years to come.
Given the scenario above, it is advisable for Zambians, students and professionals alike, to study Chinese, particularly Mandarin Chinese, which is the dominant form of Chinese language used in the mainland China.
However, please note that the language has a reputation for being one of the most difficult languages for an English speaker to learn. According to many Mandarin learners from English-speaking countries, that also includes myself, for one to be proficient, meaning being able to read and write in Chinese, will take about 88 weeks, at five hours of study, five times a week. That translates to a little over 18 months of continuous study. In short, you need to dedicate good time for learning.
So, what should we bear in mind as we get excited about learning the language?
Even as we get excited about learning the language, there is also need for us to push for better utilization of Zambians who speak Chinese mandarin by both the government and the Chinese companies that are coming to Zambia. We would like Chinese companies to start giving priority to Zambians who already speak Chinese for local jobs other than bringing all their management and technical staff from China. Government departments should also come up with a deliberate policy to utilise Chinese speaking Zambians in their structures instead of them always struggling when dealing with the Chinese nationals because of language barriers. Chinese companies should also endeavor to offer meaningful working conditions to Chinese speaking Zambians and all other local workers just as much as they do to the Chinese employees they bring in the country. We need to see an end to the high turnover of Chinese speaking Zambians who join Chinese companies due to unbearable working conditions such as lower salaries and lack of professional growth.
All in all, the introduction of Chinese language in our schools is definitely a very welcome move as we need more people who understand the Chinese cultural and language configuration to help in bridging up the cultural misunderstandings and also streamlining the barriers to strong partnerships. We also need people who will be competent enough in understanding China to come up with strategies and policy that ensures a real win- win situation as we partner with China.
The author is an entrepreneur.
Analysis: KUMBUKILANI PHIRI