Oct 4, 2018 at 12:00am ET By Alyssa Walker

As China expands its role in Latin America, a new generation of Chinese students hopes that mastering Latin America's languages will be a recipe for future success. 

Twenty years ago, when China was not Brazil's top trading partner, few Chinese students learned Portuguese.

Today, they're learning it in record numbers, in hopes of jobs as diplomats, interpreters, or lawyers for Chinese firms in Latin and South America.

According to The Guardian, Sun Jianglin, a second-year student at China’s leading language school, the Beijing Foreign Studies University (BFSU) said, "There’s a saying: ‘Learning Portuguese will help you find a good job, with good pay!"

The Spanish language has also exploded among Chinese students. According to official figures cited in The Guardian, 20,000 Chinese undergraduates in 2016 chose the language, up from just 500 in 1999.

As Beijing's footprint in Latin America expands, so too do fears of Beijing's motivations in the US.

Margaret Myers, the head of the Inter-American Dialogue’s Asia and Latin America program, said, "In the past five years we’ve seen … [language] centers open all over the place, from Wuhan, to Tianjin, to Zhejiang – you name it."

Zhang Fangming, a Portuguese language at BFSU student said, "Brazil is a country of possibilities."

While China's growing interest in Latin America is great for students, Myers says that it's a worry for Washington. 

In The Guardian, she said, "Between the BRI [Belt and Road Initiative] and the Taiwan switches, China’s presence and influence is really alarming people in DC."

They reported that Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, recently claimed that China did not seek to “move anyone’s cheese” in Latin America.

Learn more about studying Spanish and Portuguese.

Alyssa Walker is a freelance writer, educator, and nonprofit consultant. She lives in the White Mountains of New Hampshire with her family.

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