Learning Mandarin to keep talks on track

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at ccat.sas.upenn.edu
Thu Nov 2 15:03:30 UTC 2006

Learning Mandarin to keep talks on track

Rahul Singh

Bum La (On the Chinese side), November 1, 2006

SK Singh is a sought after man along the Sino-Indian border. And his word
carries weight. The 39-year-old major is among the handful of army
officers who can speak and read Mandarin. A border meet or communication
with the Chinese over hotline to discuss critical matters is simply not
possible without Major Singh, at least in Arunachal Pradeshs Kemang sector
which faced Chinas Tsona Dzong district. And as India marches ahead to
strengthen its ties with China, the army has narrowed its focus on
creating a larger pool of officers who are proficient in Mandarin.

The force is recommending more and more officers to undergo the Chinese
interpretation course at the Army Education Corps (AEC) College and Centre
at Pachmarhi in Madhya Pradesh. With just about 25 officers who excel in
the language, interpreters like Singh are a rare breed. An army officer
said, The language policy for AEC officers makes it mandatory for them to
learn at least one foreign language. Most of them are being detailed for
the two-year interpretation course in Chinese.  After the signing of
border agreements with China, cross-border interactions have increased and
so has the need for more interpreters.

Bum La hosts four border meets annually. Similar talks are held at Chushul
in Ladakh sector, where there are disputes over Aksai Chin and Shaksgam
Valley. An officer who has undergone the interpretation course said, It is
the most difficult language. There are more than 50,000 characters and
each has its own distinct meaning. For instance, in Mandarin, yi,
depending on how it is pronounced, could either mean one or 100 million.
Clearly, the scope for error is immense, he said.

Putting ones point across in a volatile environment requires exceptional
language skills. Things can go awry without an able interpreter. Sign
language is helpful only to a point, said an officer deployed along the
Sino-Indian border. Major Singh, who depends on his Chinese counterpart
for Mandarin newspapers, said: I have to act like a filter, especially
when talks deviate from the written text.



N.b.: Listing on the lgpolicy-list is merely intended as a service to its members
and implies neither approval, confirmation nor agreement by the owner or sponsor of
the list as to the veracity of a message's contents. Members who disagree with a
message are encouraged to post a rebuttal.


More information about the Lgpolicy-list mailing list