Every month this year, we will be turning our focus towards one of the core languages we love to teach – looking at the language’s potential for business, considering a few facts and figures to put its global prospects in context, plus sharing some tips to help you get started. This month we take a look at Mandarin Chinese, the official language of the People’s Republic of China.
China is home to more than 1.4 billion people, and over a billion people in China speak the Mandarin Chinese dialect, making it the second most spoken language in the world after English. To put this differently, around 1 in 6 people in the world speak Mandarin Chinese! Unsurprisingly, there are plenty of great reasons to learn Mandarin Chinese for business.
The Business Potential and Opportunities in China
China has the second largest economy in the world (after the United States), and it is a major player across virtually any industry you can think of, from financial and corporate to commercial and manufacturing. The sheer volume of business transacted through China is unfathomable, so it is more a case of wondering what industries do not operate within the country!
China has some of the largest business centres in the world, with cities such as the capital Beijing, the commercial hub Shanghai, and the industrial mecca Guangzhou leading the way. Of the world’s top 10 container ports, China (to include Hong Kong) accounts for seven, including four of the top five (with only Singapore breaking its dominance at number two)! Mandarin Chinese is also an official language in Singapore and Taiwan, which are also important business centres in Asia. In short, if you are involved in any form of international trade or manufacturing, you are likely to find business opportunities in Chinese-speaking regions and countries.
Mandarin Chinese is not the only Chinese dialect of interest to second language learners. Cantonese is also noteworthy because it is the language spoken in Hong Kong. If doing business in Hong Kong is part of your 2021 plan, it may be worth considering a switch from learning Mandarin to learning Cantonese (as a bonus, people who speak Cantonese can usually get by to a degree in Mandarin, although the same is not true both ways). For a deeper discussion of the differences between the Mandarin and Cantonese dialects, check out one of our previous articles here.
Did You Know? A Few Facts about Mandarin Chinese
Mandarin is likely to be your go-to language if you intend to work with Chinese business partners or visit/move to China. Of course, right now a physical move or visit may not be very feasible, but digital technology means that we can still conduct business ‘virtually’ in person.
Here are a few useful facts to know about Mandarin Chinese before you get started on your language-learning journey.
- Mandarin Chinese is primarily spoken in China, but it is also a common language across South Asia. Millions of Chinese people live and work overseas, which has made Mandarin Chinese a familiar language in countries such as Indonesia, Vietnam and Malaysia.
- Mandarin Chinese is often referred to as ‘Standard Chinese’ because it is the most common dialect. It is based on the Beijing dialect, so you may also hear the terms ‘Standard Mandarin’ or ‘Beijing Mandarin’.
- As well as Mandarin and Cantonese, there are numerous other dialects that make up the rich landscape of China’s languages, including those in the Jin, Wu, Xiang, Min, Hakka and Huizhou groups.
- Mandarin Chinese is the lingua franca (or ‘common language’) across China, meaning that it is the native language that is most likely to get you heard across the country. Even Cantonese-speaking people in Hong Kong are being encouraged to learn Mandarin Chinese, with Mandarin often preferred over Cantonese in schools. (The Chinese government was aiming for at least 80% of people in China to be able to speak Chinese by the end of 2020.)
- ‘Pinyin’ is a form of writing that uses the Latin alphabet to represent Chinese words (which is incredibly helpful for language learners in the UK, or speakers of any Latin alphabet-based language). Pinyin is taught alongside written Chinese characters to indicate how a word should sound.
- Mandarin Chinese has five ‘tones’: four main tones and a neutral tone. The tone of a particular letter can make all the difference to how the word sounds and is understood. Pinyin conveys these tones by adding special marks to the letters (known as diacritics).
- Chinese New Year is a major celebration in the Chinese calendar. It usually takes place in January/February and is followed by a Lantern Festival – always an eye-catching event! 2021 is the Year of the Ox.
Click here for more facts and figures about Mandarin Chinese and Chinese culture.
Tips to help you get started
Learning Mandarin Chinese may seem daunting, especially when you are looking at a range of Chinese characters that bear no relation to the Latin alphabet you are used to. To take the edge off your concerns, here are a few helpful tips to encourage you to give learning Mandarin Chinese a try.
- There are around 50,000 written Chinese characters, but try not to panic – you definitely do not need to learn them all! To make language learning a little easier for beginners, the Chinese government has simplified some of the most common characters, creating a set of ‘simplified’ Chinese characters. Most people learning Mandarin Chinese start with these simplified characters and use pinyin forms of the words to support their learning.
- It will take some time to get used to reading and writing words using pinyin and simplified Chinese, so remember to keep up with listening to Mandarin Chinese words too. Over time, hearing the sounds of the different tones should help you to perfect your pronunciation.
- Combine the experience of reading and listening by watching a subtitled film or TV series – maybe something you are already familiar with, so that you can quickly link the English words to the written Chinese. Alternatively, try watching a film made in Mandarin Chinese, such as the 2019 Chinese blockbuster The Wandering Earth. (You can also find many films and TV series ‘dubbed’ into Mandarin Chinese.)
If you would like to find out more about learning Mandarin Chinese to help you grow your business in China and South Asia, contact us today. We can work with you to develop a bespoke language-learning plan for your business, as well as provide cross-cultural training to help you connect with your global colleagues, whether virtually or in person. All our courses can be taught live online.