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Thread: Spanish or Mandarin?

  1. #1
    Dec 2008
    Upstate, NY

    Spanish or Mandarin?

    I'm starting graduate school for Regional Planning the Fall. I'm going to be focusing on transportation and GIS. I"m interested in working internationally and I'm trying to figure out which language and area to focus. Is there advantage to focusing on one area over another?

    I traveled in Chia for about a month after college and really loved it but I'm also drawn to Latin America and Spanish speaking countries. I'm just not sure which is better for my career right now. I'm signed up to take Mandarin this fall.

    I'd be interested in working for a private firm that works internationally after graduation or working for an international organization like the UN.

  2. #2
    Dec 2006
    I think it depends partly on the level of interaction you have with individuals, agencies/NGOs, and other firms in other countries. If you want to work at a higher level through staff, administrative heads, managers, several companies/agencies will speak English, or at least already have someone on staff that understands the language. English is one of the six official languages of the UN.

    If you really want to work at the grassroots level directly with families, workers, children, local community leaders, etc.it would help to learn another language or two. I don't think there is an advantage of one geogrpahic area over another because the planning issues in each country are different. You could look at that issue differently by considering which language(s) are spoken by the most people in the world (Mandarin and Spanish are up there).

    Some other languages to consider: Russian, Arabic, Hindi, and Portuguese (Brazil is experiencing significant growth, although if you can understand Spanish well enough you can comprehend parts of Portuguese and Italian). Do you know any other languages? Personally, I would start with an "easier" language like Spanish before tackling on more complex langauges.

    Hope this helps-
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  3. #3
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
    May 2005
    New Town
    Your intentions for work after you graduate is probably the most important thing to consider, but I personally would lean toward Spanish. Here's why:

    Its easier to learn (they use the same writing system, for example) and you are likely to become proficient to a level that is professionally useful sooner than with Chinese. I studied Chinese for a semester and also visited China. It kicked my butt!

    You are likely to have access to more nations where Spanish is the national language than China. Yes, China is big and will be a big player in the future, but what are the odds of you working in a context where speaking Chinese is an asset? China is still very closed and I don't think the opportunities for working as a planner there are very great for an American - most likely a private firm with contracts there. I would guess. Again, unless you have an angle on a particular opportunity.

    Spanish will be a more useful language to know in the US, depending on what you are doing. There are more Spanish speakers than Chinese speakers in the US so its more likely to come in handy professionally if you worked here. I know you are interested in working internationally, but its worth considering.

    Crucial to any language is the ability to practice and use it regularly. This will likely be easier with Spanish than Chinese.

    All this comes from someone who took Kiswahili as my foreign language. At the time I had plans to work and live in East Africa, but plans changed and where I live now, there are few Kiswahili speakers. I'm glad I learned it, but wish that I had more opportunity to develop my skills.
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  4. #4

    Experiencing a similar dilemma

    I've been asking myself a similar question, although for more general reasons. I'm interested in sustainable urban development, both in the US and abroad.

    One thing that might be important to consider is how the challenges in transportation and GIS may be different in China vs. Latin America, and moreover which of those challenges you might be interested in working on.

    I'd also consider your desire to learn languages in general. Chinese requires extreme diligence if you want to become proficient; Spanish is known to be less difficult.

    I'm trying to decide based on which area I would prefer to work in- I've lived in China for almost 4 months before, and had a great time. I've never been to Latin America, and have only visited Spain briefly once.

  5. #5
    May 2007
    Oakland, CA
    Quote Originally posted by LTrain View post
    I'm starting graduate school for Regional Planning the Fall. I'm going to be focusing on transportation and GIS. I"m interested in working internationally and I'm trying to figure out which language and area to focus. Is there advantage to focusing on one area over another?
    I'd go Spanish. There are way more spanish-speakers in America, and alot of cities in this country where basically you HAVE to speak spanish. You may end up being an honest-for-goodness international planner, but then you may end up working in the spanish speaking world just as likely as in China.

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