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Mandarin Becoming the Second Language of Luxury

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Mandarin is slowly becoming the second language of business, according to not one, not two, but three articles in The New York Times over the weekend. A front-page story in Sunday’s paper noted that high-end retailers have begun to employ salespeople who speak Chinese to handle the rising numbers of well-funded tourists from the People’s Republic.

The average Chinese visitor, the article says, drops $6,000 during his or her stay. Due to taxes their government puts on luxury goods, Chinese shoppers can get more for less in the United States and Europe.

Some Chinese come to these shores for longer stays, making Mandarin a growing necessity for real-estate agent in New York’s Long Island suburbs, adds an article in the Times real-estate section. The forces that are keeping home prices depressed here don’t pertain to buyers from booming economies like Russia's, Brazil's, and, of course, China's.

Wealthy Chinese are drawn to Long Island particularly for its abundance of upscale single-family homes, usually set in school districts that regularly appear near the top of the national rankings.

Shawn Elliott, a realty agent cited in the story, has added “translate” tabs to pages on his website and installed a separate phone line for Chinese callers. Next week he’ll travel to China to address a conference about luxury homes in the New York area.

Meanwhile, agents of Asian extraction who speak Chinese are finding that business is up.

Lastly, in a special section on education, the Times reports on efforts by German teachers to restore the language’s popularity among high-school and college students. The story cites a Department of Education study showing that only 14 percent of American high schools offer German language instruction, down from 24 percent in 1997.

German’s decline has coincided, according to a report by the American Association of Teachers of German, with the rise of Chinese. “China pursues a very active policy of subsidies, with the avowed goal of anchoring Chinese instruction in the U.S. educational landscape,” the report reads.

The German teachers do admit that China’s recent boom may also have something to do with Mandarin’s popularity: “A large majority of the population do not see foreign-language skills as relevant for their own economic, intellectual and social progress,” the association said.

Put simply, some kids see a bright future in luxury retail and high-end real estate.

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