Spanish vs. Chinese: Which is the Next Language to Learn?

“Dad, what language should I take?” asked Number One Son, as he filled out online enrollment forms for high school.   “Spanish or Mandarin?”

Indeed, that is a question that others have asked.  Nicholas Kristof asked the question in an Op-ed piece, and his answer was Spanish, which was an interesting choice as he and his Chinese American wife both speak Chinese and co-wrote books on China.  A contrasting answer would come from Jim Rogers, an American businessman who moved from the US to Singapore and makes sure that his daughters speak Mandarin.

I would have preferred that he learn to speak Tagalog.  It’s offered in some California schools, and I regret that he and his siblings didn’t learn it as child.  Despite that, it is an interesting dilemma.  The two languages that I hear the most (other than English and Tagalog) are Spanish and Mandarin.  I live in a mostly Chinese ethnoburb and hear Mandarin all of the time when I am in the local shops and in the park.  We are not far from Hispanic neighborhoods, and the kids are have learned to want only Mexican food from places where most of the people order in Spanish.  At work, when I hear something not in English, it is usually Mandarin or Spanish.

Kristof reasons that with a growing Hispanic population in the U.S. and increasing U.S. economic integration with Latin America, Spanish is the easier and more practical first choice.  I can understand that.  The Daughter’s high school Spanish class, as an “immersion”  exercise, simply walked down the street into a local Hispanic neighborhood.  Then again, similar arguments could be made for learning Chinese.  Chinese classes in at Number One Son’s school have gone to local Chinese restaurants as another “immersion” exercise.

Number One Son was interested in learning Japanese so he could watch and hear anime in its native language, but his high school doesn’t offer Japanese.  In the end, he chose Spanish.  I think he thought it would be easier.  I was glad for the choice, as if he really learned it, he could understand more of the conversations in the house and with relatives, as Tagalog has a lot of Spanish in it.

How about you all?  What would you vote for the language you should learn next (assuming you didn’t know either)?  Spanish or Mandarin?

[Flickr Photo Credit:  MyJon]

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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