A Tough Choice For Brazilians: Learn English Or Mandarin

The answer from Chinese professionals may surprise you...

English or Mandarin?
English or Mandarin?


SAO PAULO — At some point before 2030, China's nominal GDP is expected to overtake that of the United States. The Chinese economy will become the biggest in the world. This will arrive well ahead of the forecast of Jim O'Neill, who coined the acronym BRICS, and initially predicted that the C in BRICS would surpass the U.S. in 2027.

The event, when it happens, will be very significant. Until the Industrial Revolution unleashed unprecedented productive forces — especially from the mid-18th century, onwards — the world's biggest economy had been China's. The return of the primacy of the Middle Kingdom will put an end to the epoch that started in 1880, when the U.S. overtook the British economy. At the time, Queen Victoria was ruling over an "empire on which the sun never sets' and the tenant at the White House was the little known Rutherford Hayes.

Naturally, China's impressive rise is having an impact on how people around the world are preparing for the future of the global economy.

Pushing children to learn Mandarin

Back when I was a student, I went to a high school in the U.S. on a foreign-exchange program. It would never have crossed my mind or my family's at the time, 30 years ago, to go study in China or even to learn Mandarin. But now, just focusing on the situation here in Brazil, an increasing number of parents are pushing their children, even at a young age, to learn the basics of the dominant Chinese language. Many elite schools have also started to offer Mandarin on their curriculum to stand out and attract more students.

In bachelor's degrees for International Relations, the number of students learning Mandarin is growing. And they don't just want to speak the language: They also want to go to China on exchange programs, they want to do internships and work for Chinese companies.

Even in areas such as economics or management, I'm impressed with the number of Brazilian students who are now giving it some hard thought before deciding whether to learn English and complement their studies in an English-speaking country or learn Mandarin and going to China to study and work.

English, language of International Relations

At a recent lecture at a Brazilian university about how to build a global career, I was asked whether young people, to better prepare themselves for the future of the world economy, should immerse themselves in the soft power of the Anglophone civilization or of the hard drive of the Chinese one.

Later, as I was telling the story to some of my Chinese friends, I asked them their opinion: What is the smart choice for the next 25 years: study English or Mandarin? Though they all work in different fields (entrepreneurs, academics, textiles, IT), they all had the same, clear answer: English.

Chinese are "importing" American and British Universities.

Estimates are that 300 million people in China are currently learning the English language. And it's estimated that half of the Chinese population aged under 50 will be fluent in English by 2035. My friends also said that the Mandarin language alone isn't enough to overcome China's ethnic and linguistic diversity. Finally, they pointed to the fact that the Chinese were actually "importing" American and British Universities.

Of course, in the best of possible worlds, you should master both English and Mandarin, my Chinese friends argued. But in that case, I'm afraid there would be little time left to study other subjects. So for us Brazilians, it's important to understand that even for the always patriotic — but ever pragmatic — Chinese, the language par excellence for business and international relations will continue to be English.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!