At a time when economies across the world are struggling, China has maintained strong growth. Its economy has surpassed Japan’s to become the second largest in the world, behind the United State’s, which it’s set to outgrow in a decade. It’s hardly surprising that countries and corporations across the world are striving to be a part of the action. Although most countries worldwide have a majority of English speaking inhabitants, speaking Chinese – or a basic understanding of the languages in China – will go along way in enhancing the success of your business trip to the country.
A recent article in Relocate Magazine stated that China’s strong growth has led many companies to reassign employees there, for stays which generally last between four and twelve months. It is often the case that when outsourcing production to China, a member of staff will co-develop – or at a minimum oversee – the processes that are taking place; and for projects of this magnitude the benefits of in-person communication are huge.
To make the most out of their visit, it is vital that business travellers are aware of the languages in China and various cultural barriers they might face whilst they’re there. Language and cultural barriers may at first seem intimidating, but international business travellers need to understand them to get the most out of their trip.
In order to provide the best possible service to our clients we have recently appointed a China and east Asia specialist: Matthew He, our new Client Account Support. Matthew was born in Guangzhou and lived there until moving to England in 1999. He visits China on a regular basis and still has family there. His language skills and local knowledge mean that he can more effectively advise our clients on where they should stay and negotiate the best possible rates for serviced apartments in China.
Oakwood Gold Arch Residence Guangzhou offer two and three-bedroom apartments – ideal if you’re relocating with your family or a group of colleagues. With an on-site gym, tennis court, swimming pool and steam room, as well as a restaurant, café and bar, this property is well-equipped for a luxurious stay where you needn’t compromise on your normal routine.
Matthew advises that before doing business in the country, it’s vital to understand the many different languages in China and between its borders. He explains: “The main language in China is Mandarin, but there are many regional dialects (known as the Sinitic languages), such as Shanghai and Sichuan which all sound very different.”
Stylish and sophisticated, Base Suhe Apartments are located in central Shanghai with studio, one and two-bedroom apartments on offer. Business professionals can work with ease at this property with an on-site meeting room and business centre and the open-plan fully equipped kitchen and living area offers a bright space in which to prepare for an important meeting or invite colleagues to work collaboratively.
Meanwhile, Cantonese is spoken in Hong Kong, Macau, Guangdong Province and a few other areas. “Most of the time, a Mandarin-speaking person will not be able to understand anything in Cantonese,” Matthew explains. “However, a Cantonese-speaking individual will be able to understand Mandarin even though they might not be able to speak it.”
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One of the main ways in which Cantonese and Mandarin differ from English is that they use tone to express meaning instead of using it to convey emotion. This makes it difficult for English speakers to learn either language. Writing is another challenge, as Matthew explains: “In terms of writing, there is Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. Simplified Chinese is the one which is being taught at schools in China, and Traditional Chinese is used in places like Taiwan and Hong Kong.” Both the simplified and traditional Chinese writing systems are logographic, which means that each word is constructed from a unique image, so there is no alphabet. This makes learning to write in Chinese even more challenging than learning to speak it.
How does it feed into the business landscape?
From a business point of view, Matthew believes that Mandarin is the most useful language as it is more widely spoken. But wherever you’re going, don’t get bewildered: once you immerse yourself in Chinese culture, and begin to understand the rules of the language it is relatively easy to pick up a few simple phrases. If you’re worried about learning to write Chinese, Matthew recommends Pinyin: “Pinyin uses the Roman alphabet to translate the pronunciation of the language, and transcribes directly into written simplified Chinese through a computer programme.”
Learning the languages in China isn’t going to happen overnight, but can be developed gradually. A good way to do this is to learn a set of phrases that you will use frequently on your trip and take opportunities to start basic conversation with the intent of picking up other phrases along the way.
Key phrases you might need
Hello: Nǐhǎo (Nee how)
How are you?: Nǐ hǎo ma? (Nee-haoww-mah?)
What is your name?: Nín guì xìng (neen gway shing)
Goodbye: Zàijiàn (Zhai-jian)
Thank you: Xièxiè (Shieh-shieh)
You’re welcome – response to Xièxiè: Bù kèqì (Boo kuh-chi)
Where is the bathroom?: Xǐshǒujiān zài nǎlǐ? (See-sow-jian zai na-lee?)
How much?: Duō shǎo? (Dwuh shauw?)
Cheque, please: Măi dān (My dahn)
I don’t understand: Wǒ bù dǒng (Wuh boo dong)
Where is the business class check-in counter?: Gōng wù cāng guì taí zaì nǎ ér?
How long do I have until departure time?: Wǒ xiàn zài dào qǐ fēi de shí jiān hái yǒu duō jiǔ?
Where can I buy a (public transport) ticket?: Zài nǎ lǐ mǎi piào?
Xiexie ni de yuedu!