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Joining the Asian Century

The rapidly expanding Asian middle class is predicted to become the world's major engine of economic growth

While the last century was dominated by English-speaking countries, there's little doubt the 21st century will be all about the rising superpowers of China and India.

Recognising this, the federal government recently released the Asian Century White Paper. It calls for all school students to have the opportunity to study Mandarin, Hindi, Indonesian or Japanese from next year and for a third of the board members of Australia's 200 biggest companies and a third of the nation's senior public servants to have "deep experience" in Asia by 2025.

Why learn an Asian language?

Australians – who typically don't speak more than one language unless they're the children of migrants – have been lucky in that English has been the international language of business for a long time. But China is now on track to become the world's largest economy within the next two decades. And the rapidly expanding Asian middle class is predicted to become the world's major engine of economic growth. Therefore, being able to speak an Asian language will be a big benefit to Australians working in a diverse range of industries. And, given that relatively few Australians currently possess this type of language skill, those who do can expect to earn higher wages and get more opportunities to advance their careers.

Say "ni hao" to the future

It's difficult to think of an Australian industry that isn't being impacted by the rise of Asia. Whether you're a tourist operator hosting Japanese travellers, a winemaker wanting to sell Shiraz in Shanghai, a retailer importing electrical goods from South Korea or a mining engineer about to be posted to Indonesia, there's a compelling reason to learn the language of those you'll be doing business with.

There's no getting around the reality that learning an Asian language can be challenging. For example, it will typically take over 2000 hours of study for an English speaker to gain basic proficiency in Mandarin. Nevertheless, all the evidence suggests it's a worthwhile investment of time, and TAFE NSW's practically orientated language courses are a great place to start learning the Asian language of your choice.