Cancel those Chinese classes, folks

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So I’m having breakfast this morning with Haiyan Wang and Anil K. Gupta, the wife-and-husband team behind the Maryland-based China India Institute (not under any circumstances to be confused with the India China Institute). They’re giving me their–quite compelling–spiel about just how amazingly unprecedentedly transformative the rise of China and India will be for the global economy and for businesses everywhere.

At one point I stop Wang–who grew up and was educated in mainland China–and ask, “What language is all this going to happen in?” She gives me a slightly disbelieving look and replies, “English, of course.”

Gupta chimes in (this is a bad paraphrase because I wasn’t taking notes), “People ask me if their kids should learn Mandarin. I tell them, ‘Maybe, but only after they’ve mastered science and math.’ “

This is an argument I’ve harped on before. But it was interesting hearing it made so vociferously by a couple of foreign-born globalizers. Rise of China or no rise of China, English is THE global language and will only become more so. The U.S. could disappear from the face of the earth and English would still dominate. It’s a network effect kind of thing.

Now I’m all for learning other languages. Knowing German and Dutch has enriched my life in all sorts of wondrous ways. (I can sing along with The Magic Flute! I can laugh at the jokes of Van Kooten en De Bie!) And, uh, Chinese might be a little more useful than German and Dutch. But essential to success in tomorrow’s business world? No, not really.

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