Access and attitude

How would you rank these 5 human languages – which do you think has the most native speakers and which the least?

  1. Arabic
  2. English
  3. Hindi
  4. Mandarin
  5. Spanish

Not only is Mandarin Chinese the first language of more human beings than any other language, but Mandarin Chinese is the native language of more people than English and Spanish combined.

Of course, many people can speak more than their mother tongue, so how would you rank those same 5 languages if you considered the total number of people that can speak them?

English and Mandarin are ranked almost equally.  We often hear that “everyone speaks English.”  Clearly, a staggering number of people do – but it turns out that more than 85% of humanity does not speak English, and it could be argued that Mandarin Chinese is just as much of a global lingua franca as English.

Final question – what proportion of human knowledge and information online do you think is in each of those 5 languages?

Most of us tend to think that the majority of the Internet is in English and essentially accessed via Google, Youtube and Facebook.  Which means that anyone who can read English and access those sites, effectively has access to all human knowledge and information that is available online.  Conversely, the 85% of humanity who cannot read English plus the billion Chinese people for whom Google, Youtube and Facebook are blocked effectively do not have access to the Internet and are consequently less knowledgeable and informed than we are.

The impact of that assumption on our view of ourselves and our attitude towards others is enormous and disturbing.

Especially since the assumption is false.  English only gives us access to about about a quarter of the human knowledge and information that is available online.

Not much would change if we added Spanish, French or German.

But if we add Mandarin Chinese, we almost double the amount of human knowledge and information that we can access online.

Notice we are not talking about communication – the ability to say in a Chinese : “I have 2 sisters and a cat and I like to play tennis” or “I believe the European Union is good/bad because …”  We are talking about:

  • Our attitude towards people who speak and think differently
  • Access to human knowledge and information

So our focus in Wo Hui is not on encoding – projecting what we already know in English onto Chinese speakers; but rather on decoding – making sense of the world as Chinese-speakers see it in order to expand our knowledge and extend our network of relationships.

To find out about how our attitude shapes the way we learn a language, click here.