Ni Hao, Zuckerberg, in Chinese…


Here’s some “inspiration” to those in China still struggling with English: You don’t really have to learn English; Mark Zuckerberg’s ready to speak Chinese to those in the Middle Kingdom.

True, the “shock effect” is there. To the Chinese, whether or not you’re “foreign” really depends on your looks, not your passport. So whilst I’m “Chinese” even with a Swiss passport, Zuckerberg would be considered by default to (still) be “foreign” even if, one day in the (remote) future, he gets naturalised as a PRC citizen (up to him if he wants to do that, though).

Here’s why Mark Zuckerberg’s pulling off of a media conference all in Chinese was big news…

  1. Chinese is a terribly difficult language to learn to write. The number of different ideogrammes it has is in the five digits (and every time someone discovers a new chemical element, that’s an extra ideogramme added — no kidding!). Even though I’m personally against simplified Chinese, I still have to say it’s a kind of blessing for outsiders to learn — especially when the 32-character-stroke 籲 is “reduced” to merely six (吁) in simplified.
  2. Add on top of that: Chinese is awfully hard on your lips, too. Never mind you have to pronounce Q as if it was Ts, or X as if it was Sh (hence, some of us would pronounce current Chinese president Xi more like “She”). What really gets to you are the four different intonations: a flat, a rising, a dropping, and a “let-go”-ish, one each.
  3. The way grammar works in Chinese is miles apart from how it works in English. We’re used to say one train, two trains, but in Chinese, it is almost always one train, two train. Also, orders are different, so if we like tea very much in English, the Chinese has it “rearranged” so it literally reads we very like tea.
  4. Finally, my biggest headache is with how you describe things — as in what I term the “count characters”. In English, it’s one phone, one ticket, one bottle of water, but in Chinese, you need to add a “count character / term”, so it is one “bu” phone (一部電話), one “zhang” ticket (一張車票), one “ping” water (一瓶水). The “count character / term” is a completely alien concept to those of us English speakers.

Given that Mark Zuckerberg just about managed to pull that off for 30 minutes, it’s kudos to him. If I was the Head of the Department of the GFW, I’d consider lifting the ban instituted since summer 2009. You have to give him credit at times…