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Zuck Speaks Mediocre Mandarin, Cue Impressed U.S. Media

For a Q&A at a Beijing university, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decided to speak entirely in Mandarin — and Western media thinks this is a big deal.
Posted at 4:49 PM, Oct 23, 2014

If you haven't seen it yet, Mark Zuckerberg pulled this little stunt on Wednesday.

That's the billionaire social media CEO speaking to students at a Beijing university in Mandarin. Admittedly, it's an impressive feat for those of us who haven't dabbled in the tonal language. As you can imagine, media outlets have been having a lot of fun with it. 

For some, Zuckerberg was speaking Mandarin "like a boss." 

Others commented on his apparent mastery of the language, saying in their headlines he spokefluently.

And ABC thought Zuckerberg had put us all to shame by speaking Mandarin, adding, "How do you say 'wow' in Chinese?"

Right, so you get it. People were impressed Zuck was able to speak Mandarin. Maybe it had something to do with the audiences' own reaction.

Or maybe it's that no one expected it, although it's been known he was learning Mandarin as early as 2010 when he made it one of his personal challenges for the year. 

But for all of the outlets expressing their surprise at Zuckerberg's linguistics, others remained more grounded, pointing out being bilingual is nothing to get too excited about.

Two such sites were Quartz and Foreign Policy, noting that Zuckerberg's Mandarin actually wasn't spoken too well. The latter put his speaking ability at "roughly the level of someone who studied for two years in college." (Video via CNN)

And The Independent cites Internet watchers who compared his Mandarin to "an articulate 7-year-old with a mouth full of marbles."

Still, the Beijing-based China Daily said his Mandarin wasn't that bad, writing, "Zuckerberg's Mandarin pronunciation was far from fluent, but he was able to maintain intelligible conversation and the students responded with warm cheers for his effort."

And folks on Twitter were quick to defend Zuck as well, with a tech writer for The New York Times saying: "Zuckerberg did a 30-min Q&A in Chinese. He learned Mandarin while running a company. You spent your day on Facebook."

In the end, we do have to give props to the tech billionaire. Mandarin's a difficult language to learn, let alone using it in a 30-minute Q&A. As the writer over at Foreign Policy put it: "He was like a dog walking on its hind legs: It wasn't done well, but it was a surprise to see it done at all."

This video includes images from Getty Images.