March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Learning Chinese – What it Can Do for You

Learning another language opens a world of possibilities. With each extra language you learn, you add a tool to your toolbox, allowing you to be more versatile and equipped. However, what you do with those tools is key.

Here are four examples of people I’ve met who speak Chinese who have used it for their benefit.

1. Jamie studied Chinese diligently and went abroad twice to both China and Taiwan where she went through all the advanced Chinese courses she could find. She taught English on the side to support herself, but eventually became fluent enough in Chinese to land a full time translation job in Taiwan. After she acquired enough experience, she applied back to several firms and government associations in Washington DC for a translation position and is now a top translator for the US government where she has a steady income and a happy life.

2. Chris took a similar route in China, but after landing a translation job in China his boss later offered him a job in sales and marketing within the company. Through his good translation skills and hard-working attitude, Chris’s boss believed he could tackle other skills even though he had no experience in the other two fields. Chris jumped on the opportunity and took the position, which he then worked diligently at it for a few years, and later gained enough skills and experience in China to land a job in Silicon Valley where he acts as a liaison between supply chains in China and Electronics vendors in the US. Chris currently makes six figures USD a year and believes learning Chinese was a key stepping-stone to his success.

3. Matt, however, just liked learning languages and thought it would be nice to check out China. While there, he supported himself teaching English and made such a good impression with his employer just because he could speak Chinese with the students’ parents that he was offered a management position at the school. He gained a lot of hands on and valuable experience from the position and then decided to head back to the US and do an MBA. After applying to various schools, one of them offered him a full ride simply because he had experience abroad in China and could speak a little Chinese. Matt now does business, not so much in China, but his initial passion for taking a step to learn Chinese paved a bright future for him.

4.  Amy was fascinated with anthropology and wanted to research the various ethnic groups throughout China. To prepare for her research, she took an intensive three-month course in Chinese, which gave the basics for getting around China. She felt her research and experience was enriched from learning the language, and it was later published in various outlets. This opened up the door for her to do a PhD at an Ivy League school and she is now a respected professor.

The list goes on. Learning a language won’t just limit you to language-based careers if you think outside the box and allow the experience to take its natural course. You are also likely to learn something new about yourself and have a more enriched life as well.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Why Learn Chinese Mandarin? Benefits and Career Prospects

Learning another language such as Chinese has many benefits. For starters, it is the beginning of exposing you to another culture. By learning Chinese, you become exposed to the way Chinese think and talk about topics related to food and culture, society and many other topics. This helps give you a different perspective as to how different cultures interpret and view the world, and often re-shapes peoples’ overall understanding and beliefs as well.

As your perspectives expand, you tend to notice your ideas about many things change as well. You begin to question whether the beliefs and ideas you have become accustomed to from a Western perspective are legitimate, or at what level are true. For example, a Chinese person may teach you something like Qigong or Taichi, telling you that simple movements are capable of detoxifying the body and able to extend longevity. At first this may sound abstract or perhaps even impossible, but as time goes on you listen to their theory and watch it into practice, and then later compare it to what you have learned and think you know in regards to what you now know. The same may go for medicine, diet in addition to many other customs and ideas as well.

This also extends into thoughts on society. If you learn Chinese you get to travel around and meet with locals in China and understand their views on marriage, work and overall lifestyle. The Chinese may talk to you about their standards of marriage and why it is important to get married at a certain age, when it is good to have kids, why having a boy is important and the family dynamics of living with their elders. You may soon come to hear explanations that are based around traditions that extend thousands year back mixed with modern inclinations absorbed from the West. Whatever it is, it will get you thinking and reacting differently to the ways other people think and act, as well as further prove or disprove your ideas about something.

If you are into food and drink, you are able to read menus and get exposed to food other foreigners in China wouldn’t otherwise get to know. You could also learn cooking with locals and have dinner with them, which often leads to improved relationships (關係)later down the road. Those relations become very important for doing business as well as taking care of personal affairs.

Later, because you have more relationships in China that have essentially been grown through first learning language it will be better for your business, if you were to ever choose going down that path. Doing business in China without knowing the language and making connections is very difficult and therefore knowing the language is a bare minimum in most cases.

The constructs of different languages also work different parts of the brain. In Chinese, because the reading and writing are so visual and are based off pictographs that were created thousands of years ago, the brain associates and interprets language differently then your mother tongue assuming you are from the West, which can lead to increased brain activity and so-called “mind training.” Many tests have proven that people who speak more than one language use their brain in different ways, which can lead to increased creativity and ideas, and may even be less likely to brain deficiencies such as Alzheimer’s Disease and other forms of memory loss, as the brain is being pushed in different ways it otherwise wasn’t used to. That is why there are so many different memory loss recovery techniques are based around visualizations and techniques based around accessing different parts in the brain, as they help the brain re-ignite itself in a way.

If not for those reasons, knowing Chinese can also help you land some job opportunities that could help you push your career forward. When you graduate from college you may be wondering what the next step is or may be confused as to what you can do with your degree (most likely it is a liberal arts degree). Therefore, if you know Chinese you might think to yourself that going to China or Taiwan may be a good option to land a local job in company that you may otherwise not have gotten if you were not bi-lingual. You could then take the experience form that job and move back to your country of origin to get other work. Many people go down this route even though it may be more tiring in some ways, but it is creative, adds value to your life experience and CV, and also gives you an overall competitive edge in the market.

Regardless of what your reason may be, learning another language is useful but learning Chinese will be particularly useful since China is expected to be one of the main super economic powers in the 21st century. Whether one would like to admit it or not, there will be high importance for Westerners to understand, cooperate and mix with Chinese in the future, whether it be socially, culturally or economically. In the past, people from Eastern countries flocked to the West to develop and had to learn English as a basic means to stay competitive. It is naïve and pretentious to an extent to think Westerners will not have to do the same in the future. That’s not to say this is because China will dominate the West, but rather, China is a place where opportunities could exist should you chose to move in that direction.

Overall, knowing how to speak, read and listen to Chinese could be important one way or the other and at the very least prep you with some value-added skills for your life and career. So, if you are considering learning it or have begun thinking of what you can do with it further down the road you may want to consider the above-mentioned possibilities, for if explored could open many new doors and change your life in ways unexpected.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

The Way of the Polyglot

No one can deny how useful it is to speak more than a single language. Many see fluency in two or more tongues as a sign of intelligence, too. But beyond being a convenience or novelty, multilingualism has the power to open closed doors. It can create job opportunities, enhance cross-cultural understanding and promote unity among diverse peoples.

In Canada, for example, where English and French are both official tongues, bilingualism stands at 17.5% among the general population and 42.6% in the Francophone province of Quebec. In Malaysia, trilingualism is common among 31.9% of the population: the national language, Bahasa Melayu, is taught in schools; English is the second language of choice, used extensively for commerce; and the country’s Indian and Chinese minorities continue to speak their ethnic languages—Tamil and Cantonese, respectively—at home.

It is easy to understand how someone might pick up two or three languages in communities where people of more than one culture live in close daily contact. In land-locked Luxembourg, most university students who grew up speaking Luxembourgish are also conversant in German, English and/or French, the languages of their surrounding neighbors. But what of individuals who can handle five or six languages or more? What factors cause someone to become a “polyglot?”

Mastering Many Languages

The English term “polyglot” was coined in the mid-17th century, a combination of the Greek words poly (many) and glōtta (language), to describe a person who is capable of speaking or writing numerous languages. It is most often applied to those who are fluent in at least three or four languages, while the term “hyperpolyglot” is reserved for persons conversant in six or more tongues.

Several explanations exist for polyglotism. Some say that hard work, coupled with proper motivation, is the critical factor. They theorize that any moderately intelligent person with an interest in language learning will find each new language easier to acquire than the last, as learning techniques are optimized with experience. They also point out that many languages overlap in the areas of grammar and vocabulary, which makes it easier to acquire connected languages, such as Spanish/Italian or German/Dutch.

A very different theory is expressed by those who believe neurology is the key component. A spike in a baby’s testosterone levels while in the uterus can increase brain asymmetry, which might be responsible for greater language capacity in polyglots than among the general population at large. The part of the brain responsible for language—the Broca’s Area—tends to be larger in polyglots in comparison to the brains of monolinguals, but whether it is larger because of more use or used more because it is larger is still subject to debate.

Linguists do not typically make a distinction between mastery of written and spoken languages when describing a polyglot. However, it has been pointed out that less mental effort is required for reading and translating activities than for speaking, and encounters with individuals capable of understanding a dozen written languages or more are much more common that those with persons who can fluently converse in as many.

Trailblazing Polyglots

Tales of extraordinary language learning date back to Mithridates VI of Pontus (134~63 BCE). It was said that he could speak the languages of all 22 nations within his kingdom. Another ancient leader, Cleopatra VII (69~30 BCE), was credited by Plutarch with speaking nine languages while she served as the last ruling Pharaoh of Egypt.

Many noteworthy personalities of literature have also been hyperpolyglots, including the English poet John Milton (1608~1674) who spoke ten languages, the Slovak writer Adam František Kollár (1718~1783) who reportedly knew 25 tongues, and lexicographer Noah Webster (1758~1843) who mastered 23. But history’s first documented super-hyperpolyglot was Giuseppe Caspar Mezzofanti (1774~1849), an Italian cardinal who was born and educated in Bologna.

By his own whimsical account, Mezzofanti could speak “50 languages and Bolognese” by the time he served as Custodian-in-Chief of the Vatican Library in the 1830s. His biographer, Charles Russell, cited evidence of 29 different “languages frequently tested, and spoken with rare excellence” plus eight others known but insufficiently tested.

A famous tale of the prelate’s language proficiency is how he once bested the British poet Lord Byron in a multilingual cursing contest. The scribe later wrote that Mezzofanti was “a monster of languages, the Briareus of parts of speech, a walking polyglott (sic), and more—who ought to have existed at the time of the Tower of Babel, as a universal translator.”

When asked how he could possibly be familiar with so many tongues, Mezzofanti replied, “I cannot explain it…. God has given me this particular power…. I can only say, that, when once I hear the meaning of a word in any language, I never forget it.” Was he, then, simply born that way? Or was he actually hiding a secret?

The Case of Emil Krebs

An even more prolific super-hyperployglot than Cardinal Mezzofanti was the German sinologist Emil Krebs (1867~1930). In his lifetime, he mastered 68 languages in speech and writing and studied 120 others, causing researchers to ask, “Is there any limit on how many languages a person can learn?”

The son of a master carpenter from Freiburg, Krebs spoke German as his mother tongue and learned Latin, French, Hebrew and Classical Greek in school. On his own, he also studied Modern Greek, English and Italian and later Spanish, Russian, Polish, Arabic and Turkish—all by the time he was 20 years old. Then, at the University of Berlin, he took up Chinese and within three years became a certified interpreter with mastery equivalent to the language skills of a well-educated native.

In 1893, Krebs journeyed to Beijing as a diplomatic interpreter. He worked there in various capacities until his 1917 return to Berlin, where he remained until his death, but not before mastering all of the languages of the current European Union and dozens more. He also amassed a private collection of over 3,500 volumes and writings in some 120 languages, which are today stored in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C.

Krebs’ brain was a matter of great interest to the scientific community, too, and his family allowed it to be donated to the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Brain Research. There it was examined in detail and compared with the brains of other mental giants, such as Albert Einstein. Researchers identified “extra neural equipment” in all three areas of Krebs’ brain responsible for learning words, being sensitive to grammatical structure, and parsing and mimicking speech sounds. Apparently, the super-hyperpolyglot was born with his great capacity for languages.

The Secret to Becoming a Ployglot

Based upon the Krebs case alone, the hope of mastering dozens of languages might seem rather dim for those who are not gifted from birth. But innate potential is just one factor in becoming a polyglot. Perhaps a much more important one is time.

“There’s really no limit to the human capacity for language,” says MIT psycholinguist Suzanne Flynn, who specializes in bilingualism and trilingualism, “except for things like having enough time to get enough exposure to the language.” For most people who want to learn a new language, there is no short cut to putting in long hours of study.

As an example, the author of “Babel No More,” Michael Erhard, describes 32-yearold hyperpolyglot Alexander Arguelles trying to learn “at least one language of each representative type or from each language family, in order to read the world’s great books in their original languages.” His methodology was to work on “thirty different languages each day in fifteen- to twenty-minute chunks” over the course of five years for 12 hours a day.

Erhard collected many multi-language learning tips while researching his book. Among them were “listen and read a lot,” “relax and enjoy the language,” “accept mistakes and uncertainty,” and “spend an extended period of time in a country where the language is spoken.”

But perhaps the most eye-opening technique Erhard discovered in the course of his research was buried in the archives of Cardinal Mezzofanti himself in his hometown of Bologna, Italy. There Erhard found a box containing numerous stacks of “thin paper slips, darkened with age. On each slip of paper was written a word with a corresponding word in a different language on the reverse.” The super-hyperpolyglot’s secret was revealed at last—flash cards! It just goes to show that in language learning, like most other skills, practice makes perfect and there really is no substitute for hard work.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Language Development Through the Ages

One of the greatest mysteries of science is the origin of human language. A lack of empirical evidence has forced researchers to rely on fossil records, observations of how animals communicate, contemporary linguistic comparisons and other indirect studies.

As a result, two contrasting schools of thought have arisen. One side says the complexity of language means it must have evolved from the pre-linguistic systems used by our primate ancestors. The other side argues that human language is so unique, it could not have started with non-humans; it must have appeared rather suddenly, perhaps as recently as 100,000 years ago.

So controversial was the subject in the 19th century that the Société Linguistique de Paris (Linguistic Society of Paris) banned papers and debates on it in 1866. That prohibition influenced Western linguists for more than a century, and only recently has the topic been given new life. Today numerous camps have their champions, each offering strong arguments that are difficult to refute.

A Variety of Theories

A majority of scholars on language origin hold that the human faculty must have developed gradually over a long period of time. Among them are the Canadian-born linguist and experimental psychologist Steven Pinker of Harvard University, cognitive scientist Ib Ulbæk HYPERLINK “” \l “cite_note-10#cite_note-10” of Denmark’s Roskilde University and American developmental psychologist Michael Tomasello of Germany’s Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology. To them, language is instinctual, a biological adaptation that has been shaped by natural selection

Some of those who favor “continuity theories” of human language believe it started with gestures, later accompanied by vocalizations. Others point to early human capacities for song—mothers naturally cooing to their babies or hunters mimicking bird calls and the like—eventually giving rise to more distinct meanings. They can point to the cognitively controlled aspects of primate communication as a potential source.

Representative of the “discontinuity” position is Noam Chomsky, a professor in the Department of Linguistics & Philosophy at MIT who is sometimes referred to as the “father of modern linguistics.” Chomsky has proposed that human language is genetic in nature. It abruptly came into existence as the consequence of a single chance mutation occurring in one individual, and there is both biological and mathematical evidence to support this claim.

A few linguists have attempted to transcend the divide between continuity and discontinuity by advocating a theory of social transformation as the cause of language emergence. They point to chimpanzees and bonobos living in the wild that rarely if ever use the latent symbolic capacities they demonstrate in laboratory experiments. Some social trigger must have awakened the dormant ability in humans.

Areas of Agreement

While disagreeing on origins, where linguists begin to come together is in their understanding of the timing of human language development. In 1998, linguist Johanna Nichols of the University of California, Berkeley used statistical methods to show the time required to reach the spread and diversity in modern languages today. She estimated that the process of diversification had to begin at least 100,000 years ago. That just happens to coincide perfectly with anthropologists’ widely accepted time frame of 150000~50000 BCE for the emergence among humans of “behavioral modernity,” including cultural creativity and symbolic thought.

At the other end of the time scale, experts agree that there are there are no “primitive” languages in existence today. All modern human populations speak languages that have “comparable expressive power.” There may be differences in complexity, but all current languages have transformed to a degree that no truly primitive one has survived intact.

Another area of consensus regards written language. As indicated by archeological finds, humans have created pictures representing their environment for at least 40,000 years, but the coding of pictures into a symbolic language is no older than 5,500 years, when the first Sumerian pictographs were recorded in stone. It would take another 2,000 years or so for such “glyphs” to represent spoken syllables as opposed to objects or actions, and the first true “alphabet” was not developed by the Phoenicians until 1200 BCE.

Interestingly enough, the evolution of written language may give some support to the concept of social transformation being the critical factor in the development of human language in general. Egyptian proto-hieroglyphics and Sumerian pictographs evolved separately but within a few hundred years of each other. Chinese written script evolved on its own, too, but nearly 2,000 years behind those of Mesopotamia/Egypt, which is roughly the same time gap that exists between the start of agriculture in the Fertile Crescent (9000 BCE) and in the Yangtze and Yellow River basins (7000 BCE).

Modern Language Evolution

Today, linguists classify languages into monogenetic units called “families” that reflect their origins and ancestry: Germanic, Italic, Sinitic, Semitic, etc. Clusters of language families are grouped into phylogenetic units or “branches.” Of the world’s current population of seven billion people, roughly two-thirds speak languages belonging to one of the two major branches: Indo-European (i.e., English, Spanish, Hindi, etc.) and Sino-Tibetan (i.e., Chinese, Burmese, Tibetan, etc.). Another 12 percent have either Niger-Congo or Afro-Asiatic languages as their mother tongue.

Oddly enough, the commonalities between languages can be far greater than the differences. During the past decade, considerable research has been conducted on “cognates”—words of common origin that sound similar in various languages and have almost the same meaning, such as “moon” in English and “maan” in Dutch. It has been subsequently discovered that all Indo-European tongues evolved from a common ancestor about 6,000~10,000 years ago.

Of additional interest is the pace of language evolution. Data compiled by the University of Reading in England has shown that it takes about 750 years to replace the less frequently used words in a language. More common words, however, are about ten times more stable. That explains why the number “three” in English is still remarkably close to “tres” in Spanish, “theen” in Hindi, “trei” in Romanian, “tri” in Slavic, and so on.

Affecting language development are such factors as commerce, migration, conquest, isolation, economic progress, cultural shifts and more. In the case of written language, change can be politically instigated, too. That was certainly the case in 1964 when “simplified Chinese” was first put to public use by the Chinese Communist Party under Mao Zedong (毛泽东), just as it was in 1972 when Malaysia introduced a new system of spelling called “Ejaan Baru” for anything written in the local language, Bahasa Melayu.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Keith Chen: The Benefits of Futureless Languages

In February 2013, media outlets from America’s Wall Street Journal to the U.K.’s BBC were abuzz about bold observations being made by a behavioral economist at Yale University. Keith Chen was claiming that a soon-to-be-published study would show how rates of obesity, smoking, drinking, debt and poor pension planning correlate directly to the types of languages spoken around the world. In particular, the associate professor of economics insisted, the manner in which a mother tongue marks the timing of events can have a huge impact on the economic behavior of its speakers.

Of course, the concept of “linguistic relativity” is nothing new. For nearly 200 years, theories have been put forth regarding how the structure of a language affects a person’s world view and, in turn, his or her cognitive processes. What made Chen’s position so newsworthy was the massive amount of hard data at his disposal and the serious mathematical analysis he applied to a variety of lifestyle indicators, particularly in the area of personal savings.

Weak vs. Strong

The basic purpose of Chen’s research was to test a linguistic-savings hypothesis: “that being required to speak in a distinct way about future events leads speakers to take fewer future-oriented actions…. Put another way, I ask whether a habit of speech, which disassociates the future from the present, can cause people to devalue future rewards.”

The bulk of Chen’s research focused on what linguists call “future tense reference” or FTR. He distinguished between two broad categories, strong FTR languages such as English, Greek, Italian and Russian that “require future events to be grammatically marked when making predictions,” and weak FTR languages like Chinese, Finnish, German and Japanese that do not. For example, a New Yorker might say “It will rain tomorrow,” using the future marker “will,” while a citizen of Berlin would comment “Morgen regnet es,” which directly translates to “It rains tomorrow.”

In cross-country analyses, Chen first identified a strong correlation between weak FTR languages and future-oriented behavior. He then switched to within-country regressions, comparing individuals with identical income, education, family structure and countries of birth, but who spoke different languages. Again, speakers of weak FTR languages appeared to be more future-oriented in terms of behaviors both monetary and non-monetary in nature.

Specifically, Chen’s report, which was subsequently published in the April issue of American Economic Review, showed that weak FTR speakers were “31% more likely to have saved in any given year, have accumulated 39% more wealth by retirement, are 24% less likely to smoke, are 29% more likely to be physically active, and are 13% less likely to be medically obese.”

Why might that be? Chen believes that speakers of weak FTR languages view the future as part of the present, not as a time separated and potentially far away. Just consider the difference between the phrases “I save money” and “I’m going to save money” or “I don’t smoke” and “I won’t smoke.” The present tense describes a behavior, while the future presents an intention.

Exaggerated Claims?

The media had a field day with Chen’s statistics, publishing headlines like “Why Greeks Haven’t Saved for a Rainy Day” and “Why Speaking English Can Make You Poor When You Retire.” Most reporters managed to get Chen’s main premise correct: “marking the future tense differently makes the future seem further away, and therefore you are less likely to plan for the future.” However, in their haste to reduce science to sound bites, some went overboard, such as author David Berreby (Us and Them: The Science of Identity) who blogged that the research showed “certain languages are inherently healthier to speak than others.”

The loose journalism attracted a raft of critics from the linguistics community, including John McWhorter of Columbia University. He told the BBC, “The extent to which the language shapes the thought is tiny. We’re talking about milliseconds of reaction…. None of it has ever been proven to have anything to do with how people see the world or experience life. It’s a tempting idea that simply doesn’t make any sense.”

Writing in Language Log, professor of linguistics Mark Zimmerman of the University of Pennsylvania questioned the reliability of Chen’s calculations, while Geoff Pullum, a professor of general linguistics at the University of Edinburgh, wrote, “Chen’s thesis is highly brittle and susceptible to counter-exemplification.” Pullum suggested that Chen’s classification of English and Russian as strong FTR languages was mistaken; he also cited a counter example regarding the influence of a weak FTR language, one spoken by the Pirahã Indians of Brazil, indicating that “contrary to Chen’s prediction, the Pirahã are unconcerned with planning for the future, to a quite extreme degree.”

More to Come

At present, economists seem to be more accepting of Keith Chen’s conclusions. His paper was selected as the Editor’s Choice for Science Magazine (Vol. 339) in the spring of 2013. He has been invited to give TED and TEDx presentations to standing-room-only audiences, most recently at Marist College in New York. And his work continues to gain traction in the blogosphere, where it has rekindled interest in the correlation between language, thought and action.

Taking special interest in Chen’s work is Östen Dahl, a Swedish linguist and professor best known for pioneering a marker-based approach to tense and aspect in linguistic typology. Chen cited Dahl’s studies into “futureless languages” frequently in his research and, based upon the Yale professor’s methodology, Dahl has “tried looking at things from another angle.”

Dahl has subsequently written, “It is not only the case that there are many different linguistic features that can predict economic behavior, but Chen’s division of languages into ‘strong and weak FTR’ ones also predicts various other pieces of behavior (such as) intentional homicide rates and belief in God.”

Meanwhile, Professor Sean Roberts of the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics has done some further analysis on his own and told Chen that “evidence here supports a strong statistical link between future tense marking and the propensity to save money.” He has suggested that additional research, including lab experiments, be conducted to demonstrate “a causal link between the two variables…that the future tense variable really does reflect how people think about time.”

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

The Most Impressive Polyglots Ever

We’re all about languages here on Chinese Connects and we’re impressed by anyone who can speak many of them. There are many bilingual speakers in this world and many multi-linguists, all of which have dedicated themselves to perfecting more than one language. However, the people who impress us the most, and the people who deserve the most respect where languages are concerned, are polyglots.

A polyglot is someone who is able to speak multiple languages and is typically used to describe people who can speak a dozen of more, people who have dedicated their lives to languages.

Ziad Fazah

Liberian-born, Fazah was raised in Lebanon and classes himself as Lebanese. He is the current Guinness World Record holder for the person who speaks the most languages in the world, at a total of 58. However, it is debated whether he actually speaks and understands this many languages, as there have been multiple TV appearances where his talents have been tested and he has failed to understand simple phrases in languages he claims to know well. This includes a Chilean TV program where he was tested in Greek, Hindi, Russian, Chinese and other languages, failing to recognize beginner-level phrases in all of them.

Sir John Bowring

The former Governor of Hong Kong, Bowring was a many of many talents, by all accounts. It is reported that he could understand as many as 100 languages, although to what extent is not very clear. It is unlikely that he would be beyond beginner level in all of these languages and it is also very unlikely that this claim would have any basis in truth. However, Bowring was able to speak many languages, including Russian and Spanish, which came in handy during his career in politics and as a translator.

William James Sidis

A child prodigy, Sidis was reported to have taught himself eight different languages by the time he was just 8 years old. He even invented his own language, which he dubbed Vendergood. Sidis had an IQ that is said to be one of the highest ever recorded, and as a result of this and his many other mental capabilities he received a lot of attention from the general public. Unfortunately, it is that attention that drove him away from society, and he died a lonely death at the age of 47 after a life working menial jobs that it is fair to say didn’t make full use of his extraordinary talents.

Emil Krebs

In the early 1900s, Emil Krebs was a German diplomat who studied over 100 languages during his lifetime and was reported to be able to speak and understand close to 70 of these. He was an avid reader and learner and he never stopped developing his amazing linguistic talents throughout his life.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Where to Study Chinese in Taipei – Review

There are many schools in Taipei to choose from for learning Mandarin Chinese. The three major ones are National Taiwan University (NTU), National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU), National Chengchi University (NCCU). There are also many other smaller organizations and private schools but for the sake of simplicity I’ll review these 3 main ones and let you decide which one sounds most appealing.

National Chengchi University

This is the school I went to. In short, I didn’t like it that much. I chose this school due to its location near the outer ring of Taipei but little did I know this was considered one of the rainiest places in Northern Taipei due to its location in a basin that is nearby mountains, two features you do not find near the other schools. This meant that at least 3-4 days a week there was a constant drizzle and the skies were hazy most of the time. If you were to take a 15-minute bus ride into the city you would find most of Taipei was dry and sunny. It was that much different. However, the air is fresh here and the campus is located up a hill from the main entrance, giving it a more picturesque view than other locations. If you are a more quiet person and would prefer the more hustle and bustle on the weekends this campus is for you.

The curriculum at this school is the same as the other schools in terms of levels 1-4 as they all follow the same books. However, it was announced in 2015 that those books and overall curriculum were being replaced by a new system. I am not familiar with them since I have not seen or met anyone else involved, nor am I certain all schools will follow it but the answer will most likely be yes. In terms of classes, I feel the teachers were like most other ones I have run into in that some are great, some are so so, and some suck. I had it all at NCCU. I think the teachers could have been more disciplined, and the class times should be changed away from an 8am starting time. The 8-11am schedules are brutal for nightwalkers like myself, and the 1-4pm options just seemed to take up the day. If you are a morning person then this place is for you. In terms of students, there are many Russians studying here and probably the least amount of native English speakers, as they mainly go to NTNU and NTU.


The curriculum here has previously been the same as NCCU’s and NTU’s as mentioned, but again that may have changed as of 2015. Most students go to this school for its more centralized location and because classes are 10 hours a week (2 hours a day) versus other schools who offer 3 hours on average. This is good if you do not want to commit full time to Chinese studies but bad if you do, as you really need 3-4 hours of class a day to really improve. Also, scholarship students complain about one aspect of this school. Because scholarship recipients from government organizations such as MOE are required to attend at least 15 hours of class a week this means that recipients need to make sure and record an extra 5 hours at the school’s library as part of a “self study”. While most students end up in the library sometime during the week this required amount often bothers many and some do not manage their time properly to fit it all in. Basically, as long as you are putting an hour in a day after class you should be fine.


I have not seen any more significant improvement in Chinese skills from those attending this school. Many students are attached to the name but to be honest since all the schools follow the same curriculum and the teachers are mostly accredited from the same universities, there isn’t a whole lot of diversity in teaching. Unless you have a higher budget and want the brand name, we would suggest elsewhere, as the location of this place is also neat NTNU. However, getting to be around NTU is a nicer environment and the Taiwanese students are a different breed compared with other schools, so this makes more an interesting experience nevertheless.


If you want something more in the wilderness and away from the business of the city, choose NCCU or a school on Yangmingshan. If you want the shortest possible classes and a decent curriculum, choose NTNU. If you want smaller class sizes and a good brand for your resume, choose NTU.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Through the Ears of Chinese

Ever wonder of another way to think about the world? Learning a new language allows you to.

Learning Chinese, specifically, will teach you that the language allows people to identify more than just words associated to objects, but also descriptions as well.

For example, Chinese people regard animals such as the Koala as a “no tail bear” or a hippo as a “river horse”. Using such descriptions would the equivalent of saying “black bear” in English; only Chinese uses such descriptions in many other regards.

Ever hear of the Great Wall of China? The Chinese do think of it as being great in some ways, but actually the literal translation of it is “long wall/ 长城”. Additionally, there is Beijing, literally meaning the “North Capital” or Shanghai “Above the Sea”, which point to very useful ways of thinking about locations and the characteristics associated with the places.

How about going to a restaurant and trying to order something spicy? In English, speakers are confined to saying things such as “I want it just a little bit spicy, or really spicy or somewhere it between.” It’s hard to describe the level of spiciness to the person taking our order, but in Chinese there is 小辣 (little spicy) ,中辣 (medium spicy) and 大辣 (big/very spicy). The Chinese way is also a lot quicker to say as the phrases express certain levels or measurements rather than an opinion or emotion.

However, Chinese isn’t always perfect. There isn’t a 100% known standard for what is just a little spicy or very spicy, but it comes close. You can also say you make big money in English similar to Chinese(赚大钱)or spent a little bit of money on something(这是小钱)but there isn’t really a way to describe something priced in the middle.

And lets not forget the word “world”, which to most English speakers is just a name. In Chinese it is also just a name in a manner of speaking (地球)or but it could literally be translated as “earth ball” or “ground ball,” giving the listener a more direct explanation of the object. It’s a good thing though that for baseball an extra character (面)or “surface” was added to differentiate a ground ball (地面球)versus “the world ball.”

Each language has its own methods of identifying certain characteristics, emotions etc. of things, places, people or events, but Chinese is one of those languages that allow listeners to have a more direct understanding of the object rather than just an associated name. Some people argue that Chinese speakers only think of their words in the same way say English speakers do. However, if you have ever taken a Chinese class you will know that is not how the language is taught and instead is very graphic, with meaning and story like, thus making it a fascinating language to learn.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

Studying in China: Things to expect


Chinese teachers in China tend to be kind, traditional and at times strict. The teachers stick to their curriculums and believe that by following certain steps and repeating them over students will be able to solidify their language studies.

In fact, having gone to various universities and Mandarin training schools in Beijing, the teachers really tend to follow the same set of rules and patterns for helping their students learn. I think that has to do with their training in general and if you think you will get some miraculous teacher at a program that costs 3-5 times the amount as others you may want to reconsider. The advantages of those programs, however, is that the teachers tend to baby-sit students and are always making sure their students are on top of things. This was particularly true for Ivy league students from the USA studying in Beijing, as some teachers or staff would even go to the students’ rooms and force them out in order to get them in the classroom. It sounds kinda crazy but it’s true, so if you are thinking of taking an advanced program it may be the path for you otherwise don’t worry.

It is best to be on time to class as it is with any teacher but in China the teachers are pretty relaxed about students coming in late (assuming you are not in a high intensive and strict program). That’s not to say you should take advantage of the situation, but know that if you have something going on and are late, and then you explain it to the teacher afterwards, most likely they are not going to take away any points or punish you etc. Most of the teachers in general are very aware that not all students come to Beijing to study diligently and tend to take the approach that you get what you want from the program.

That’s not to say they don’t manage the classroom well, however. The teachers are very dedicated to helping students and know their jobs are on the line if they do not perform well. There also seemed to be a sense of fear that if they were too strict students would still find a way to complain so the teachers tend to find balances between everything and push the students to be a bit more pro-active.

Compared with Taiwan, I think the languages programs in China are much better. Despite the repetitive more traditional-like nature of the teachers in China I actually think it is quite effective and they really stick to their belief in the teaching curriculums and follow similar patterns in teaching students writing, reading, listening and speaking. This was particularly true at the university I went to-Beijing Language and Culture University (BLCU). In Taiwan, however, the teachers do have set curriculums but tend to give into students’ various demands more easily, making it hard to find a standard for the classroom since the direction of the studies always seemed to be changing. This happened at National Chengchi University (NCCU) when I was there but I was told from students at other universities such as National Taiwan Normal University (NTNU) and National Taiwan University (NTU) that teachers and curriculums were a bit more balanced. However, being in Taiwan to study traditional Chinese characters is a major plus as well but overall learning simplified is more useful now adays.


If you study Chinese in Beijing you will get very diverse classmates. Out of 20 people in my class, there were students from 15 different countries stretching across major continents all over the world. You get to learn a lot from your classmates as well and even tend to speak a lot of Chinese with them as there are many from South Korea, Mongolia and Russia that could care less about speaking English. They all had incredible stories to tell as well and come from diverse backgrounds, which includes being able to speak multiple languages.

In Taiwan, there are a lot of students who were afraid to take on the mainland first off so first settled to Taiwan. Or, the other half seemed to be people who went to the mainland and decided it was too much, causing them to move to Taiwan.

At NCCU, most of the students are from Russia and South America due scholarship and sister school arrangements the school has in those two areas. As for NTU and NTNU, expect to see a lot more Japanese, Southeast Asians and many native speakers of English.

Dorm rooms

I highly recommend not getting a dorm room in China unless it is a newly renovated one. When I arrived to China in February my dorm room didn’t have heat and I slept in my winter clothing for about a month before I bailed to get an apartment. Make sure to ask if your potential has heat, hot water, air conditioning and your own/shared bathroom. Also, it is very important to note that most dorm rooms allow smoking in them so if you are not a smoker this could be a big problem if your roommate is. You need to request a non-smoking roommate ahead of time.

In Taiwan, no such extremities exist but the rooms tend to be really worn down and wet due to the humidity and lack of renovation. Most people I knew living in them did not like it but did so to save money. Otherwise, outside rooms can be better but you should be ready to pay at least NT$7,500 and up.

Cultural activities

In Taiwan you won’t get the Peiking opera/martial arts/Tai ji courses that you can get in China. If you are really into that then you definitely want to choose China. Taiwan for many reasons hasn’t preserved Chinese culture the way you find it across the Taiwan Strait but if you are looking for something as a warm-up for China then it may be the place to go.

March 20, 2023Comments are off for this post.

How Language Learning Affects Thought and Behavior

Learning a language is a curiously powerful process. It’s like taking a journey through a strange land full of obstacles, surprises and discoveries. Through study, instruction or experience, one who was previously incapable of understanding the meaningless utterances of others becomes able to make sense of and replicate their words, phrases and syntax. The effects can be quite dramatic, as even a modicum of proficiency opens up new opportunities to communicate and exchange feelings and ideas.

But even as a new language is being acquired, so are a variety of unfamiliar concepts, from assigning gender to inanimate objects to using a single tense for past, present and future. Learning a language goes beyond memorizing vocabulary and gaining knowledge of proper grammar; it often requires adopting an entirely new way of thinking. And as one’s thought patterns change, behavior may also be modified, as the following examples aptly demonstrate.

Taking on a New Identity

In English, there is only one word, “I,” available to describe one’s self as the person who is speaking or writing. Similarly, “you” is the only term used to identify the person who is being addressed. Many other languages, however, have male or female versions of those words. Some, such as Japanese, also have formal and familiar versions, too; the “you and I” used by a young man planning a trip with his fishing buddy are very different from those he would use when asking his employer for a week off.

Learning a new language invariably forces us to think of ourselves and our world differently. The American humorist Mark Twain once complained about how German speakers made turnips female and young maidens neuter, yet English is one of the few European languages that does not assign feminine and masculine characters to inanimate objects. To master many languages, it is therefore necessary to reconsider the role of gender beyond basic sexual attributes.

In discussing family relations, a new vernacular may force a higher level of specificity upon the language learner. Special emphasis is often placed on age, making it necessary to speak of younger brothers or sisters in different terms than older ones. In Chinese, the English term “uncle” (伯父) is typically refined to mean father’s younger brother (叔父), or father’s elder brother (大爷), or husband of father’s sister (姑夫), or mother’s brother (舅父), etc.

Clearly, this role of language in defining who we and others are must have a profound affect on individual identity. This explains, at least in part, why those who are bilingual can so often be heard saying that they “feel like a different person” when speaking their second language.

A Matter of Time

Of the many ways languages can be categorized, perhaps one of the most impactful is the way in which they treat the notion of time. “Tensed languages,” like Greek and English, make clear distinctions between the past, present and future, whereas “tenseless languages,” such as Indonesian and Chinese, employ the same phrasing in describing the events of yesterday, today and tomorrow.

This is much more than a simple matter of grammar. It goes to the very heart of how each of us perceives the passage of time and our relative place in its continuum. Greek, for example, has eight separate tenses to calibrate not only an event’s position in time but also its “aspect”—the nature of an action with respect to its beginning, duration, completion or repetition.

The same is true of English, which also reveals cultural nuances in the use of its tenses. A Harvard student might innocently ask, “Did the bell ring yet?” That use of past tense would most likely send prickles up the spine of an Oxford student, who would connect the present to the event and ask, “Has the bell rung yet?” While English tenses enable significant distinctions to be made between the deep past and the more immediate past, they also help the United States and England remain “two nations separated by a common language.”

On the other hand, not having a past tense at all actually offers some advantages. It allows modern citizens of Beijing to be much more connected to the dynasties of China’s history, as if the events of bygone centuries are still occurring. And by the same token, the lack of a future tense means “the future is now” rather than detached from the present and waiting at some distant time ahead.

Influences on Specific Behaviors

In 2011, Yale University behavioral economist Keith Chen made a bold observation. His detailed analysis of data from OECD countries indicated that in places where tenseless languages were the mother tongue, personal savings rates tended to be higher—as much as 5 percent higher on average. More savings, he points out, translate into greater prosperity for those countries and more secure retirements for their citizens.

And Chen’s theorizing has not stopped there. He has applied his methodology to other social segments and found that speaking a futureless language affects decision-making on other levels, too. Specifically, he says futureless language speakers are “20~24% less likely to smoke, 13~17% less likely to be obese and 21% more likely to use condoms.”

Although Chen’s research is ongoing, he has already gained a crowd of enthusiastic followers, some of whom are delving deeper into the relationship between language and behavior in other areas. For one, Stanford psychology professor Lera Boroditsky has written on how a certain Australian Aboriginal community uses compass directions in place of “left” or “right.” Their heightened awareness of spatial relations makes them “remarkably good at staying oriented and keeping track of where they are, even in unfamiliar landscapes.”

Boroditsky notes that about a third of the world’s languages address space in absolute terms rather than the relative ones used in English. Directions such as “left” and “right” or “back” and “front” are egocentric, relying on the orientation of the individual. It is quite possible that emphasis on geographic directions is the key to being better able to navigate new terrains and avoid getting lost.

The Foreignness of Languages

Every language is a filter that shows us what’s relevant and what’s not with respect to the people who speak it. Several Asian languages have multiple words for “rice” to differentiate the raw grain from the cooked version as well as from what grows in the paddy before threshing. The Inuit dialect spoken in Canada’s Nunavik region has at least 53 ways to describe “snow.” And Sanskrit has 96 words for “love,” while ancient Persian has 80, indicating that perhaps something has been lost as newer languages have evolved from their ancient roots.

Interestingly enough, even when languages share the same words, their interpretation can still be quite different. Both English and Japanese both have words for “green” (緑色), but despite the exact same three hues of the spectrum present on Los Angeles streets, don’t tell someone in Tokyo that the traffic light colors there are anything other than 赤/黄/青 (red/yellow/blue). By the same token, Japanese speakers must refrain from telling their Western friends that they live in a マンション or “mansion”—a loan word that’s come to mean “condominium” in the land of the rising sun.

Thought, behavior and language are so closely interrelated that knowing one language can actually interfere with learning a new one, especially when presuppositions get in the way. For that reason, perhaps the best advice for anyone learning a foreign tongue is to treat it as something truly foreign—completely unknown and never before experienced. Accepting a language as it is, going with its unique flow, quite often provides the opportunity to experience the world in a totally new and different way.