Written by Joanna Hughes

As the borders of business continue to break down, the advantages of speaking a second (or even third!) language are increasingly well-known. One language that frequently claims a spot on roundups of most important business languages? Chinese. Here’s a closer look at five reasons to join the billion-plus people all over the world who speak Chinese.

1. Communicate in not just China but plenty of other countries, too.

China is not only a major economic player, but it’s also a significant trading partner for many Asian countries. Factor in that Mandarin is the official language of the earth’s most populous country and that it’s the world’s most widely used language among native speakers, and its plain to see why its dominance in the business world continues to grow across a breadth and depth of industries, including everything from cars to consumer goods to pharmaceuticals and engineering.

China is also the globe’s largest manufacturing and export network, and home to many major multinational companies, including the Alibaba Group, C-Trip International, the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China, and SAIC Motor Company. According to Forbes’ accounting of the world’s largest public companies, China lays claim to 291 Global 2000 companies, including five in the top ten.

But the benefits of knowing Chinese aren’t limited to doing business in China. Language exchange and learning company Bilingua says in including Mandarin on its list of 10 Best Languages to Learn for Business Anywhere in the World, “Apart from China, Mandarin is also spoken in Taiwan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and Singapore. What’s more, all these nations have fast-growing economies both in terms of production and purchasing power.”

So while English has maintained its status as the primary lingua franca globally, Chinese is coming on strong. If you’re looking to amplify your ability to communicate -- and to build key business partnerships -- speaking Chinese can be a game-changer.

2. You won’t just be able to communicate more, but also better.

Communication isn’t just about knowing the right words. It’s about using them right -- both contextually and culturally.

Jonathan Poston, editor-in-chief of the Learn Chinese Business Blog, explains, “Developing a strong relationship with Chinese business partners usually precedes meeting at the official negotiating table, and is in many ways paramount to the deal itself. Learning to speak with Chinese business partners in their native tongue always imparts a special advantage to anyone willing to learn a language for the sake of business. It shows respect, and who wouldn’t appreciate that? Furthermore, foreigners who end up doing business with the Chinese may have a partner or translator who speaks the language, but relying on them too much can undermine crucial “bonding” experiences with important Chinese decision makers.”

Knowing Mandarin can also eliminate the need for a translator. Not only can using a translator become a barrier to connection, but it can also impede clarity -- particularly when understanding and negotiating business agreement terms. For contracts written in Chinese, language competency can help you understand the terms, minimize confusion, and avoid costly mistakes.  

Regarding the degree to which knowing the language opens a window to knowing the culture, BU’s World Languages & Literatures asserts, “To study Chinese finally means to study a culture, a people. [...] To be at ease and effective in a Chinese environment learning the language is half the battle, but knowing about the culture behind the language is the other.”

3. You’ll be in demand by employers -- and paid well for your efforts.

A British Council analysis of which languages the UK needs for the future determined Mandarin and other Chinese languages to be one of the top five languages of the UK’s most important export markets; Mandarin also earned a top five spot on the ranking of languages needed for economic purposes. Meanwhile, 28 percent of companies reported that Mandarin Chinese was useful to their organizations. At the same time, however, Mandarin Chinese -- alongside Arabic -- was identified as having the greatest gap between supply and demand. It’s hardly surprising, then, that employees with Chinese language skills are a sought-after commodity -- not just in the UK, but anywhere business is being done with China.

According to The Independent, meanwhile, not only are there many job openings for people who speak Mandarin, but they’re also among the highest-paying jobs in the UK.

4. You’ll gain access to a massive consumer market.

According to a recent report from the Nikkei Asian ReviewChina is on track to surpass the US as the world’s biggest consumer market this year. But cashing in on this trend isn’t as simple as it may sound.

Sean Patrick Hopwood writes for Day Translations,“The economic growth of China is still at a rapid pace and for foreign companies venturing into the country, their success lies in the patronage of Chinese consumers. Because of the differences in culture, norms, beliefs and language, it is difficult to gauge how the Chinese consumers will take to foreign brands. Moreover, there are Chinese products that are similar to foreign products, thus the marketing staff has the enviable task of carefully studying the market in order to survive.”

For those looking to leverage this shift into the best outcomes, Chinese language skills can offer a major inside edge. Failure to embrace the native language -- or to use it poorly -- will have the opposite impact.

5. Your travels will be smoother.

While remote communication technologies have helped to bridge the gap between countries, there’s no substitute for face to face interactions. If you frequently deal with Chineses businesses in your job, your work will likely (and hopefully!) bring you to China and other Chinese-speaking countries.

Poston continues, “American businessmen often make the mistake of believing that everyone in China learns English and that everything comes with an English translation. This might be somewhat true in tier 1 cities like Beijing and Shanghai, but more business opportunities are becoming available in tier 3 and 4 cities, where English is more of a rarity. Even with a translator, what business thought-leaders want someone to order everything for them, or even escort them to the public bathrooms at a tradeshow?”

Rather than having to rely on someone else during your travels, Chinese language skills will help you be more confident and independent.

Nelson Mandela famously said, ‘If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his own language, that goes to his heart.” Given the adage insisting that business is about relationships and that Chinese has been hailed as “the business language of the future,” we can think of no better way to facilitate a truly international business career than by learning Chinese.

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Joanna worked in higher education administration for many years at a leading research institution before becoming a full-time freelance writer. She lives in the beautiful White Mountains region of New Hampshire with her family.
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