The future already speaks Chinese

photo: Miguel Gentil and Javier Caro, two of the founders of La Casa China, talk to the author of the article / LEAH CHANNAS

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“BECAUSE IT’S THE FUTURE!” Vanessa (¿cuál es su apellido, qué estudia, cuántos años tiene?) shouts when asked why she’s studying Mandarin Chinese. She’s taking lessons this afternoon in La Casa China (The Chinese House), a language and cultural center in Seville, which helps Spanish students to learn about and adapt to a country seen by many as the new promised land. A group of Sevillian architects, who work in China developing new cities, recently opened La Casa China on 15 Cabeza del Rey Don Pedro Street, in the Alfalfa quarter.

THREE OF THE FOUNDERS, Miguel Gentil, Marta Barrera, and Javier Caro, have been studying Chinese for seven years. Marta and her husband, Miguel, started to travel to the country
in 2006. They did a series of investigations on urban development around the country and later started their own architectural and urban projects in different Chinese towns, where they still work. These trips inspired many cultural exchange questions, and prompted them to open La Casa China in their hometown of Seville. They wanted to create a space where Seville and China unite and people can explore boths languages and cultures in addition to the growing economic opportunities of the Asian giant.

THE WORLD ECONOMY depends largely on what happens in China. According to the International Monetary Fund, it has the world’s second-largest economy in terms of nominal GDP, approximately US$ 8.227 trillion. China is second only to the United States. It also holds the largest portion of the United States debt.

ONE IN SIX PEOPLE IN THE WORLD speak Chinese. With a population of over 1.35 billion people, China is the most populated country and also the world’s fourth-largest by land area with 9,596,960 square kilometers. Chinese is spoken outside continental China in Taiwan, Singapore, and in countries like Indonesia with significant communities of Chinese background, and, of course, in all the cities around the planet where Chinese people live and do business.

“IT’S IMPORTANT TO LEARN CHINESE in the whole world. Chinese business is going to be the first one”, says Miguel Gentil. “Each year it is more important to know at least a little bit of Chinese. It’s very useful, at least for the relationships between politicians and between businessmen.”

THE ABILITY TO SPEAK CHINESE is a valuable skill in business, politics, tourism and communications today. In 2012, 73 Chinese companies were listed in the Fortune Global 500, a world ranking based on revenue. Spaniards would do well to involve themselves with China, points out the architect and cultural activist, because interest in China’s economic opportunities and evolution is growing. “In my experience, the main newspapers in Spain have been publishing at least two articles a day about China. Four years ago there were no articles about China being published,” explains Gentil.

“I LIKE THE CHINESE CULTURE, and I want to learn the language to further my career. In the future I hope to be able to do business with China in my job,” says Vanessa, a student at La Casa China. She is one of the many Spaniards that have started learning Chinese, which they consider to be as important as English. It’s crucial to know the language of the two largest economies for maintaining ties with these superpowers (precisar de quién es esta opinion).

IN ANY EXCHANGE BETWEEN PEOPLE of different cultures it is polite to attempt to adapt to the another’s culture, and so the Chinese value the ability of a foreigner to speak at least a little bit of their language. “When we have a dinner with our friends there, we always try to speak a little bit of Chinese with them,” describes Javier Caro, another young architect and founder of La Casa China.

ASIDE FROM THE BENEFITS OF COMMUNICATING with the Chinese, learning the language helps tourism, the main source of income in Spain, to adapt to the growing number of Chinese tourists. Having Chinese-speaking personnel will attract even more visitors that bring in revenue. But in China “it’s not all about the economy; it truly is an interesting country and has many great things to offer,” Miguel Gentil clarifies.

LA CASA CHINA offers Chinese language courses for Spaniards and Spanish courses for Chinese, but it is also a cultural center that offers art, photography, music, literature, architecture, or cinematic activities. “We don’t want to concentrate on just one aspect of the language or the culture or the society, such as the economy. This is a multidisciplinary space and, above all, it is an open one,” Gentil says. It is a place for exchange between Spanish, Chinese, and English speakers, or anyone who wishes to use Chinese for presentations, personal reasons and business meetings. “It is a point of reunion between Seville and China,” he says.

ALTHOUGH IT IS CLEAR there are many benefits to learning Chinese, Caro expresses his frustration with writing and speaking the language, which he thinks is much harder for a Spanish speaker than learning English. “One character could have seven completely different meanings,” he says. His colleague Miguel adds another difficulty, “It’s a very different manner of thinking.”

FOR SPANIARDS, in learning Chinese there’s a glimmer of hope. If they are able to communicate for business, politics, and tourism with Chinese speakers, they can multiply their opportunities to get out of the economic rut.

FIRST LESSON: “Future” in Chinese is 未来. Wèilái.