Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg wowed an audience at Beijing’s Tsinghua University by calmly chatting his way through a 30-minute interview in Mandarin, but the internet has been a bit harsher comparing him to “an articulate 7-year-old with a mouth full of marbles.”
Critics noted that despite displaying a solid vocabulary Zuckerberg’s intonation and grammar was firmly Western, with one tonal misstep causing him to announce that Facebook had 11 mobile users – rather than one billion.
“His enunciation was roughly on par with the clarity possible when someone’s stepping on your face,” said one summary from Quartz, before adding “regardless of the slip-ups, his audience clearly loved the fact that he made an effort.”
In a video of the event this much is certainly true with the young audience bursting into cheers the moment Zuckerberg starts speaking. He also gave his reasons for studying the language: in order to speak with his in-laws (he married Chinese-Vietnamese-American Priscilla Chan in 2012); to help him study Chinese culture; and because the language is hard – and he loves challenges.
A blogger writing for Foreign Policy summed up his efforts: “It's hard to describe in English what Zuckerberg's Mandarin sounded like, but I'd put it roughly at the level of someone who studied for two years in college.”
And, well, what's wrong with that? As tech journalist Farhad Manjoo put it: "Zuckerberg did a 30-min Q&A in Chinese. He learned Mandarin while running a company. You spent your day on Facebook."
Zuckerberg is a big star in China - despite the fact that Facebook has been banned in the country since 2009 - and the 30-year-old insisted in his interview that the site did help Chinese businesses by selling adverts to Western customers.
He also reiterated that he thought the next platform after mobile phones would be virtual reality – a nod to Facebook’s $2 billion purchase of VR headset makers Oculus Rift earlier this year.
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