The UN has designated April 20 as Chinese Language Day.

Chinese is spoken by more people on earth than any other language: more than 1.3 billion people speak Chinese as their first language, with many more speaking Chinese as a second or third language. Mandarin is the official spoken language of China and Taiwan, and one of four official languages of Singapore. Cantonese is commonly spoken in Canton, Hong Kong and Macau, and many overseas Chinese communities, and is featured in the widely-popular Cantopop. Hokkien is spoken in Fujian, Taiwan and throughout Southeast Asia. And there are many other varieties, which some call “topolects,” as well. Chinese is written using characters, which are largely comprised of phonetic and ideographic components.

A U.S. Census Bureau report says that after English and Spanish, Chinese was the most widely spoken language in the United States, with 2.9 million people speaking it at home in 2013. Alongside Spanish, Chinese is the only language in addition to English in which the New York Times is published.

With China leading the world in global gross domestic product (GDP) adjusted for purchasing-power parity (18.33%), and the growing importance of Greater China in STEM and R&D, the study of Chinese language and culture has taken on a new urgency in the United States. Chinese is now one of the most-enrolled areas of study offered by Global Languages at MIT.

In addition to the study of language, MIT offers a wide range of classes on Chinese culture, history, society and media taught in English. Our classes cover everything from the classics of traditional Chinese literature to contemporary Chinese film. We also offer classes dealing with global Chinese immigration, Chinese Americans, and global Chinese food. Two of our newest subjects are 21G.204 Three Kingdoms: From Fiction to Comic, Film, and Game and Chinese calligraphy offered over IAP. In response to the pandemic and the stresses of remote learning, members of our Chinese team, with support from MindHandHeart, have created a series of videos for students to practice relaxation and meditation while learning Chinese language. The videos are tailored for different student learning levels, from beginner to advanced: Meditation for Chinese Learners.

Students at MIT may:

  • Receive a HASS Concentration or Minor in Chinese;
  • Pursue a Concentration, Minor or Major in Asian and Asian Diaspora Studies;
  • Combine a Major in Asian and Asian Diaspora Studies with any STEM-related field for a joint degree in Humanities and Science (21S) or Humanities and Engineering (21E) under the SHASS joint degree program.

MIT has also offered these work and study abroad opportunities:

  • Internships in China through MIT-China / MISTI program.
  • Study Chinese abroad over IAP;

For many students, Chinese acquired at MIT and beyond has become a gateway to further studies and to career paths (for example Max Allen).

Why study Chinese? Alum Josh Woodard answers this question in his 3-minute video!