1. Limited time only! Sign up for a free 30min personal tutor trial with Chegg Tutors
    Dismiss Notice
Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Math Mandarin - Beneficial for a future Physicist/Mathematician

  1. Feb 24, 2010 #1
    I'm sure this has come up before, but I hope angling it in this specific manner helps justify the new post. I will be starting university this fall, and have decided I want to learn a third language (First being Norwegian, second being English.. Or the other way around. Equally fluent in both, really). In Norway, we have to choose a third language fairly early on. Due to my immaturity at the time, I chose what was called "in-depth English" because I wanted an easy class. Sure enough, all we did was.. browse English websites, something I already spent all my free time doing, so it was quite relaxing. I have regretted that decision ever since, however, and now I really want to learn a third language.

    I want to learn a language that will benefit me in terms of being able to read foreign research (in the event that it's not written in English) and work at universities abroad. As of now, German seems like a smart choice. I'm already fluent in two Germanic languages, so German probably won't be that hard for me. Furthermore, I think that I as a mathematically inclined person would enjoy the strict grammatical structure of German. Quite frankly, though, it seems dull. German is the most popular choice for Norwegians, and pretty much everyone knows it to some extent here. My heart is elsewhere, unfortunately.

    I really want to learn an Asian language. Japanese could be interesting to learn, but I'm thinking Mandarin will be a much more important language to know in the future. After all, I'll be around for another 50-60 years, most likely. So, my question is this: Do you think it's a wise career move for someone in physics/mathematics to learn Mandarin? Will Chinese universities be the major players in these fields in the years to come, or am I better served learning a more 'traditional' language like German or French?

    Feel free to compare Mandarin and Japanese too, if you disagree with my conclusion that Mandarin is the more useful language of the two for a physicist/mathematician to know.

    PS. To clarify, when I write physicist/mathematician, it is because I have yet to decide which of the two fields to major in. I love both, and it's proving to be quite the impossible decision. But I'll get there.
  2. jcsd
  3. Feb 24, 2010 #2
    A lot of math PhD programs require proficiency in French, German, Russian or Italian, so I'd recommend one of those.
  4. Feb 24, 2010 #3
    It depends on what field your going into, but I see a lot more Italian, German, and Japanese in my lab.
  5. Feb 24, 2010 #4
    No, I don't think it will be that useful.
    Not only me, check: http://www.phys.uu.nl/~thooft/theorist.html

    Quoting from that page:
    English is a prerequisite. If you haven't mastered it yet, learn it. You must be able to read, write, speak and understand English, but you don't have to be perfect here. The lousy English used in this text is mine. That's enough. All publications are in English. Note the importance of being able to write in English. Sooner or later you will wish to publish your results. People must be able to read and understand your stuff.

    French, German, Spanish and Italian may be useful too, but they are not at all necessary.

    If you will do this only for Physics/Math career, I think it won't be much beneficial.
    However, you should study the languages you want. If you don't have enough motivation for learning a particular language, you will waste your time. Don't discard learning a Asian language just because it will not be that helpful. If it will be challeging and fun to you, do it.
  6. Feb 24, 2010 #5
    There are good reasons to learn Mandarin Chinese, but this isn't one of them. English is a required subject for Chinese college admissions, and physicists will be able to read/write it so that they can access the international literature.

    Don't know, but that would be a reason to learn Mandarin. Physics/mathematics journal articles will be in English, but things like policy reports, web sites, chat rooms, etc. etc. that let you figure out what the status of Chinese universities are won't be. If you can read Chinese, you'll be able to figure out the status of Chinese universities a few years before anyone else does.
  7. Feb 24, 2010 #6
    Could I ask which field you're in?

    Thanks for the tips, guys.
  8. Feb 24, 2010 #7


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    Although people figure that with China becoming an economic powerhouse it will be a good idea to learn Mandarin, keep in mind a lot of people also thought this about Japanese once upon at time.

    That is, of course, not to say you shouldn't learn it. It is an interesting language, though you are hopefully aware it is hard to learn - east asian languages are generally classified as the hardest languages to learn, at least for an English speaker. I'm not sure how much the situation changes for a Norwegian speaker - a quick glance at the wikipedia page on Norwegian tells me you at least have some concept of tone (Mandarin has 4 plus a neutral tone), though I suspect that otherwise it's still pretty hard to learn, so it will be best if you will have access to many mandarin-speaking colleagues to harass with questions and to practice with. Also, if you can manage it, as far as learning the language goes it probably would not be a terrible idea to go on exchange to China or Taiwan for a semester. (Though if you were to go to Taiwan be aware that they use traditional chinese characters in writing, whereas China uses a simplified character set. Although most characters are the same, some are different enough that if you only know simplified it will be hard to read traditional). Of course, my experience with learning the language has been limited to classes and pestering native speakers with questions - I have not done such an exchange so I can't vouch for how much one can acquire of the language on an exchange semester.
  9. Feb 25, 2010 #8
    I am aware that it's hard to learn, yes. I think that is why it, along with Japanese, appeals so much to me, compared to easier languages such as German. And you are correct to assume that I have some concept of tone from Norwegian. It is as you say still hard to learn, however. I fully intend to do an exchange and language schools in the summer in a country in which the language I choose is spoken, as in my experience, it is dreadfully hard to become fluent without doing so.

    I guess the main question of this thread was, would Mandarin (or Japanese) be of any use to me as a physicist/mathematician. I love languages, and I will learn a third language even though it's not needed, but choosing a language that will at least benefit my career ever so slightly seems logical.
  10. Feb 25, 2010 #9


    User Avatar
    Homework Helper

    As far as learning a language that benefits your career goes, keep in mind that it is far from certain that you will be able to get an academic job in physics or math - far more Ph.D students don't get academic jobs than those who do, and it's not because they didn't want them. You may want to entertain the idea of learning a language which would help you get some other desirable job in the future if getting an academic job doesn't work out. To this end, as China is becoming more economically powerful and more countries are doing business with it, mandarin may indeed be very useful, although as I said people once thought the same of Japanese and that didn't turn out to be true.
  11. Feb 25, 2010 #10
    Learning a language can mean a lot of things besides using it. Mandarin may or may not help you in your career, but by learning it you learn something about the Chinese culture which heavily influenced most peoples in Asia, and is in a lot of ways different from Western culture.

    So I say go for it. Even if you don't become fluent in it, you'll get a better idea of a rising economy.
  12. Feb 25, 2010 #11
    You have a point, Mute. I can certainly see Mandarin being very useful in jobs other than academic ones.

    Mayonaise, that's partially why I initially favored Mandarin over more closely related languages like German. The fact that the culture (as well as the language) is further separated from our 'western' culture makes it a fascinating study.
  13. Feb 25, 2010 #12
    If you find it fascinating, and perhaps want to do it to broaden your cultural horizons, then learn Mandarin, but I doubt it would help you very much with math or physics.

    Try to identify articles you would like to read and take note of what languages they are in. Most of the articles I have been interested in reading has been in English, French or German. To me especially French seems like a good choice because I'm inspired by the likes of Grothendieck, Serre, Weil, Deligne and they all published substantial amounts of French papers (large parts of Serre's work has been translated or rewritten in English). However your interests may drive you towards a different group of mathematicians/physicists and whatever their primary language is, is what you want to learn.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Similar Discussions: Mandarin - Beneficial for a future Physicist/Mathematician