Chinese: Madrid’s Hottest Language

Somebody really needs to look into whoever it is and was that has done such a great job of marketing the French language. It is fairly mind-boggling how huge the language is around the world when you consider the populations where it is natively spoken. There are right around 67 million people in France, but the number of native French speakers worldwide is closer to 75 million. That is because you have to include French Canadians and the other French speaking countries in the world. When you expand to people that speak French as a second language, that number jumps from 75 million to 275 million. That is a pretty hefty jump. Not only that, the prevalence as a second language is almost 3 times that of native speakers. When you look at the same numbers for Chinese people and Mandarin, it is insanely different. There are 1.4 billion Chinese people, 910 million Mandarin speakers, and 200 million more second language speakers. The total French speaking population is around 4 times the population of France and the equivalent for Mandarin is less than the population of China. For one, France only has one language, with no Cantonese equivalent, but it is the perception of the language that drives learning. In Spain, particularly in Madrid, China has been succeeding at marketing their language as the language of the future and it is taking hold like never before, stealing away the market share from French.

Hanban is the Chinese government’s promotional agency for the Mandarin language and it has been providing the resources to Spanish schools to help promote the study of Chinese. Hanban made an agreement with the Madrid regional government to offer Chinese teachers to public schools for no cost as an extra-curricular activity. Only 34 schools adopted the free program, but they expect it to expand. Now, Chinese is supplanting French and German as the second foreign language for schools in Madrid, with English as the obvious first language. As the Spanish now see it, English, Mandarin, and Spanish are the three most important languages of the future, so they are supporting all three.

One of the major issues is that Chinese and Spanish are completely different languages, as opposed to Spanish and English which have some similar roots or Spanish and French, which are both descendants of Latin and have even more in common. Even with all of the resources provided, Spanish students are actually finding that Chinese is so difficult to pick up that it is almost expected that you will not be any better than a basic speaker at the end of the year. Even still, parents are committed to overcoming this struggle because of what they imagine the future will look like. It is an extraordinary bet.

Many of the families engaging in Chinese education in Madrid are those that are already wealthy and the lessons can be very expensive. It is common to turn to private tutoring for help and some even hire live-in nannies to help fully immerse the kids. By the end of it, the parents hope to teach their kids a language that they do not even understand themselves.