Acquiring Chinese language skills helps foreigners assimilate in society

By Lilly Wong Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/10 17:08:39

Illustration: Liu Rui/GT

Speaking Chinese may not have been a requirement a decade ago when any foreigner who did not look Chinese could secure a job as an English teacher. Nowadays, if expatriates look for jobs in the Chinese market, it is a "must" found in most job listings.

Indeed, Chinese language requirements vary depending on the job. Some positions, such as English language teachers, or lawyers handling international cases, may not require Chinese language speaking capabilities. With some companies, it is possible to get around this language barrier.  

However, in the end, who are you working with? Whom are you having a conference with, and whom are you going to impress in China? The Chinese. 

Having some Chinese speaking skills is an advantage that helps candidates stand out during the job-hunting process. The best-paying jobs in China generally require the ability to speak Chinese, particularly Putonghua. Positions that require the ability to speak and write Chinese pay more than similar positions without language requirements.

If you aim to pursue a higher position at a company or if you have long term plan to work in China, then sharpening one's Chinese language skills would be a good idea. 

More foreign correspondents who post to China speak better Chinese, while even more diplomats today receive Chinese language education before they begin working in China. This shows how crucial language skills are for communication. Chinese language skills may not be necessary for every job, but for those who cannot speak it, they will not do as well while in China. 

Even if you do not speak Chinese very well, having a basic understanding of the language would impress a Chinese employer. It would demonstrate your efforts to connect with the country. It also reduces the distance between you and your Chinese colleagues and clients.

With the growth of the economy, Chinese are more proud of their traditional culture and search for cultural recognition. Most educated Chinese can have a conversation in English, but if you can master their native tongue, it would increase your standing, and they would view you with greater respect.

After all, understanding any foreign language is critical to gain access to a different culture. Many expatriates choose to isolate themselves in foreign community bubbles. After years of living in China, they cannot even say "xie xie" (thank you). 

It is a shame these people do not take the opportunity to enrich their life experiences and cannot be more open-minded. It only shows they lack the skills to adapt to different cultural environments. 

Some argue that learning Chinese is not worth the effort when living in China for less than one year since it is a hard for English speakers to learn when compared with the European languages. 

First, do not forget that Chinese, with 1.1 billion speakers, is now the world's most widely spoken language. You cannot only practice it in China but can also learn it from speaking with overseas Chinese. 

Second, unlike the French or German languages, Chinese grammar is simple. There are no verb conjugations or noun declensions used for gender and number distinctions.

Sure, it is not easy to learn Chinese as the language has four tones, and Chinese characters are not phonetic. However, if you are interested in culture or willing to talk, it is manageable.  

China does not produce TV sitcoms like Friends that would help Westerners learn the language similar to how Chinese learn English by watching Western shows, but there are Chinese Kung Fu films that can fill the gaps. 

Learning any language takes time and effort. 

It is understandable for Westerners frustrated with learning Chinese to complain that it is useless.

Perhaps they will never master Chinese. They either have forgotten how their Chinese skills lead to their current position or feel threatened by those who actually learn the language. 

After all, the market has been more competitive for expatriates than in the past, so speaking Chinese would only deepen business relationships and create more possibilities in the future.

The author is a Beijing-based journalist. She lived in Sydney from 2014 to 2016.

Posted in: VIEWPOINT

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