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Mandarin speaking Vincentians – important for our development

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Tue, Feb 17, 2015

At a Chinese New Year’s luncheon held by the Embassy of the Republic of China (Taiwan) on Saturday, February 14, it was quite a thrill to observe Vincentian students comfortably having conversations in Mandarin with Taiwanese nationals.

Mandarin (Standard) Chinese is the single most widely spoken language in the world, with 874 million people having it as their first language and when one includes those who have it as their second language, the count goes up to over a billion persons — one fifth of the planet.{{more}} Compare this with English, which has 341 million people who claim it as their first language, with the number increasing to only 508 million with the second language speakers.

Mandarin Chinese is the official language of mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, Singapore and Taiwan, and with China having overtaken the United States as the world’s largest economy in 2014 (when adjusted for purchasing power) and the fact that it has surpassed the United States in terms of global trade, we can see how important it is for Vincentians to be able to communicate with people from this part of the world in their native tongue.

For generations, Vincentians have been born into a world dominated by two world powers — the United States and Great Britain — countries where English is the official language. Being English speakers gave us an advantage in academia, trade, tourism and made it relatively easy for us to integrate on migration to those countries. Study of foreign languages was limited to the Romance languages like Spanish, and French.

Today, we live in a very different world. The Republic of China (Taiwan) is one of our closest diplomatic allies and cultural, technical and educational exchanges are common between the two countries. Additionally, with the enormous size of the Chinese economy and the myriad of goods produced there at affordable prices, many local entities do business in this part of the world. It is also not uncommon now, for construction companies from Taiwan or mainland China to be involved in the construction of large projects here. It is therefore to our advantage to have fluent Mandarin speakers numbered among our citizens.

Fortunately, the opportunity to learn Mandarin Chinese is now not only available to Vincentians who study in Taiwan. The St Vincent and the Grenadines Community College (SVGCC) offers Mandarin as one of three foreign language electives from which students must choose.

This opportunity is one that should be grasped, as developing proficiency in Mandarin not only allows the learner to communicate in the language, but gives that person a window into the culture and thinking of the people who speak it, essential for the furtherance of diplomacy, trade and friendship.

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