How Well Does Mark Zuckerberg Speak Chinese?

Mark Zuckerberg recently made headlines by speaking Mandarin during a half hour Q&A at Tsinghua University in Beijing. He started with a disclaimer that “my Chinese is terrible” but after an enthusiastic response from the audience he continued, saying that while the language is “difficult,” he “likes challenges.” He spoke for about a half hour, answering questions and cracking jokes. Everyone was very impressed.

Well, almost everyone. Tweets and comments trickled in criticizing his accent, his failure to use proper tones, and the apparently rehearsed nature of many of his phrases. One headline read “Mark Zuckerberg Speaks Mandarin Like a Seven-Year-Old.” The author, Issac Stone Fish, put Zuckerberg’s skills “roughly at the level of someone who studied for two years in college, which means he can communicate like an articulate 7-year-old with a mouth full of marbles.”

Victor Mair at Language Log pegged him at a level “about ¾ of the way through intensive first-year Mandarin,” but still found his efforts impressive. According to Mair, “his tones are indeed a bit wobbly, and his grammar shaky at times, but his pronunciation (vowels and consonants) is generally acceptable, and he has a decent range of vocabulary (actually surprisingly good for someone at his stage of learning the language).”

What is more impressive than Zuckerberg’s command of Mandarin is his relaxed and assured manner. Adults who try to learn foreign languages are most hampered by the problem of self-consciousness, the fear of making mistakes or looking foolish. Not so for Zuckerberg, forging ahead with a smile, on a stage in front of an audience no less. That sort of confident enjoyment in newly acquired language skills goes a long way toward building on those skills. That’s how you really learn a language.

Of course, it helps that he gets such a positive, almost thrilled reaction to everything he says, simply because he’s speaking Chinese. This is not just because he is a billionaire CEO. As Brian Fung points out, “it’s hard to understate how much cultural and political messaging is bound up in a white person speaking Chinese, even bad Chinese … seeing a foreigner deign to speak the national language for a change can yield sheer delight.”

If a Chinese person were to speak in English at a U.S. university at a level on par with Zuckerberg’s Chinese, it would be received with dismay, not delight. But that doesn’t mean the Chinese person didn’t have to work just as hard to get to that level. We should be impressed with Zuckerberg’s Chinese—he put in the effort when he didn’t have to, after all, but we should also remember to be impressed by the many people we meet every day who had to learn English as adults. They’ve likely never had anyone tell them how well they speak it. Take a moment today to spread some language love. Or at least a few likes.

Afternoon Map
The Most Popular Infomercial Product in Each State

You don't have to pay $19.95 plus shipping and handling to discover the most popular infomercial product in each state: AT&T retailer All Home Connections is giving that information away for free via a handy map.

The map was compiled by cross-referencing the top-grossing infomercial products of all time with Google Trends search interest from the past calendar year. So, which crazy products do people order most from their TVs?

Folks in Arizona know that it's too hot there to wear layers; that's why they invest in the Cami Secret—a clip-on, mock top that gives them the look of a camisole without all the added fabric. No-nonsense New Yorkers are protecting themselves from identity theft with the RFID-blocking Aluma wallet. Delaware's priorities are all sorted out, because tons of its residents are still riding the Snuggie wave. Meanwhile, Vermont has figured out that Pajama Jeans are the way to go—because who needs real pants?

Unsurprisingly, the most popular product in many states has to do with fitness and weight loss, because when you're watching TV late enough to start seeing infomercials, you're probably also thinking to yourself: "I need to get my life together. I should get in shape." Seven states—Colorado, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, Nebraska, Utah, and Wisconsin—have invested in the P90X home fitness system, while West Virginia and Arkansas prefer the gentler workout provided by the Shake Weight. The ThighMaster is still a thing in Illinois and Washington, while Total Gym and Bowflex were favored by South Dakota and Wyoming, respectively. 

Kitchen items are clearly another category ripe for impulse-buying: Alabama and North Dakota are all over the George Forman Grill; Alaska and Rhode Island are mixing things up with the Magic Bullet; and Floridians must be using their Slice-o-matics to chop up limes for their poolside margaritas.

Cleaning products like OxiClean (D.C. and Hawaii), Sani Sticks (North Carolina), and the infamous ShamWow (which claims the loyalty of Mainers) are also popular, but it's Proactiv that turned out to be the big winner. The beloved skin care system claimed the top spot in eight states—California, Mississippi, Nevada, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, Tennessee, and Texas—making it the most popular item on the map.

Peep the full map above, or check out the full study from All Home Connections here.

A Florida Brewery Created Edible Six-Pack Rings to Protect Marine Animals

For tiny scraps of plastic, six-pack rings can pose a huge threat to marine life. Small enough and ubiquitous enough that they’re easy to discard and forget about, the little plastic webs all too often make their way to the ocean, where animals can ingest or become trapped in them. In order to combat that problem, Florida-based Saltwater Brewery has created what they say is the world’s first fully biodegradable, compostable, edible six-pack rings.

The edible rings are made of barley and wheat and are, if not necessarily tasty, at least safe for animals and humans to ingest. Saltwater Brewery started packaging their beers with the edible six-pack rings in 2016. They charge slightly more for their brews to offset the cost of the rings' production. They hope that customers will be willing to pay a bit more for the environmentally friendly beers and are encouraging other companies to adopt the edible six-pack rings in order to lower manufacturing prices and save more animals.

As Saltwater Brewery president Chris Gove says in the video above: “We want to influence the big guys and kind of inspire them to also get on board.”


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