Take one look at China on a map, and you will be struck by its size. It is a veritable heavyweight on the map, and it also has the largest Asian economy by far – in fact, it has the second largest economy in the world (this year it also surpassed the combined economies of the 19 Euro countries), and it is fast catching up to its main competitor, the United States. China is also the world’s largest trading economy, so getting close to Chinese industries may create significant economic opportunities for your business.
Introducing Chinese language learning to your organisation may help you make the connections you need to expand your business into Asia. This blog helps you decide where to begin as you contemplate learning Chinese.
Figuring out the dialects
Over 1.2 billion people speak Chinese, and these people can be found in 37 different countries, making Chinese a key global language. However, these millions of people actually speak one of a variety of Chinese dialects rather than one form of Chinese alone. Mandarin Chinese is by far the most widely spoken dialect, and this is also the basis for Standard Chinese (a broadly understood Chinese language that acts as a lingua franca to enable communication across the many dialects in China). Standard Chinese is therefore the common starting point for any Chinese language learning beginner.
Another popular dialect is Cantonese – this is widely spoken in Hong Kong and Macau. It doesn’t have the wider influence of Mandarin on the global understanding of Chinese, but it is an important dialect if you are focusing on doing business in Cantonese-speaking regions and countries. Broadly speaking, however, Standard Chinese is the best Chinese language to learn to help you get by in business across the country.
Making sense of the shapes and sounds of Chinese
Simplified Chinese characters were introduced in the 20th century, with the primary aim of encouraging greater literacy in China. These simplified characters are now widely used in mainland China, and as a result language learners can expect to work with these simplified forms.
Language learners can also expect to work with ‘pinyin’, a Latinised version of Chinese. Pinyin will appear familiar to English speakers as it works with the same alphabet, so it may help ease learners into the language (as even the simplified characters number in their thousands!).
Chinese dialects can also be complicated as they rely so heavily on ‘tone’ to distinguish meaning. Mispronouncing the tone can mean that your words are misinterpreted – which could spell disaster in business! Mandarin uses five tones, and every syllable has its own distinct tone (as a helpful tip, pinyin is also written with tone marks above the vowels, so it will be a huge help as you work to differentiate between the different meanings).
Using pinyin to learn the language fundamentals and to help you make sense of the tones will enable you to communicate effectively in Chinese with the right learning support – and with time, even the simplified characters may start to read naturally to you. Try not to be too daunted by the prospect of learning Chinese – you might be surprised at how quickly you can pick up the basics!
Learning Chinese for business might seem like a tough challenge for your team, but with your organisation’s support, it could lead to great opportunities with this leading global economy. Contact Simon & Simon today to find out more about our Chinese language learning courses (from Mandarin to Cantonese).