1. Chinese, is one of the Sino-Tibetan languages, or more accurately it is a group of different dialects of which Mandarin (Putonghua) is one. Taken together there are more native speakers of Chinese than any other language. To put this in perspective there are approximately 915 million speakers of Mandarin (without including any of the other dialects such as Cantonese), compared to Spanish, the fourth most widely spoken language in the world with around 400 million speakers.
2. You donâ€™t have to learn Chinese characters to learn to speak Chinese. Pinyin is a method of writing Chinese in the roman alphabet. Hanyu pinyin spells the sound, and includes tone marks to help give the correct pronunciation.
3. Chinese literature. The dialects are not mutually intelligible but the written language is shared between them all. Although you do not need to learn to read Chinese characters to speak the language, by doing so you open the door to an enormously diverse and rich literature. In fact, the earliest record of writing was in Chinese characters although very different in form from modern characters (of which there are many thousand).
3. The Chinese economy is the fastest growing economy in the world, and so in the work environment even speaking a little Chinese will give you a competitive edge, if your company invests in China or is considering doing so.
4. Language and culture are linked and learning something of the Chinese language will help give an appreciation of the cultural heritage of China.
5. China is accessible to the foreign visitor in a way that it has not been in the past and travel to and within China is becoming easier, but to make the most of this opportunity for travel, language at a basic level is important. Mandarin is spoken throughout China.
7. China is becoming increasingly important in the world and may be the dominant economic power in the not so distant future.
8. Food. You can eat in the tourist restaurants in hotels but if you want to see more of China it is more better to try the food and experience the culture in local restaurants.
9. In 2008 the Olympics are being held in Beijing. In 2008 many foreign visitors will descend on China to watch the Olympics. It is an ideal opportunity, if you are lucky enough to be going, to stand out from the crowd by being one of the few who has learnt at least a few words of Mandarin.
10. Like any other language, it is possible to learn a few words and phrases in Mandarin, enough to be polite without spending years in further education. Linguata would help.