It’s hardly the defining issue of the 2012 presidential campaign, but Geoffrey Sant makes an extremely compelling case that Jon Huntsman isn’t nearly as fluent a Chinese speaker as he’d like you to believe. He clearly knows a bunch of Chinese words and can offer some comprehensible phrases, but even his self-selected examples of things he knows how to say are riddled with errors.
Meanwhile, as someone who “speaks” French and is currently here in France, it’s clear to me that the real challenge is not so much what you can say as what you can hear. Based on years of French classes back in the day, I’m pretty darn good at taking a moment or two to think about what I want to say and coming up with an understandable way to say it. I can read French text, albeit slowly, and more or less understand what’s happening. But the risk of saying anything is that someone might reply! Parsing other people’s spoken language in real time is about 10 times harder than deciphering a text or composing your own statements. Yet it’s obviously integral to knowing how to speak a language. The level of knowledge I’m stuck at is extremely nice to have as a tourist, but would be completely useless for conducting any kind of meaningful business.