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Why Every Business Manager and Leader will need to speak Mandarin


Not too long ago something amazing happened on Wall Street. Alibaba, a major e-commerce company with headquarters in China, had its IPO and within 20 minutes over 100 million shares were traded. By the close of the trading day Alibaba was able to raise $21.8 billion dollars; more than the $16 billion raised by Facebook’s IPO a few years earlier. The record breaking performance also gives a whisper of what the global economy has known for some time: China is becoming a major economic power. Smart business folks are looking into learning Mandarin Chinese as a business language.

A Paradigm Shift?

This isn’t the first time that a given language has taken global center stage. The lingua franca of the 17th century was French, and that changed to English in the late 19th century and well into the 20th. America’s economy hegemony since World War II has kept English as the major business language until now. China can no longer be denied its place.

The Significance of Mandarin

The figures are staggering. It is estimated that nearly 850 million people can speak Mandarin. While traditionally restricted to mainland China and a few neighbours, Chinese business is expanding almost exponentially. China is already the second largest economy in the world and is one of the largest trading partners of the United States. That last point bears remembering. The amount of commerce between the United States and the People’s Republic of China continues to grow. There are opportunities in places such as Shanghai and Beijing that cannot be ignored by any profit conscious company. Learning Mandarin could definitely be a good career decision for any supervisor looking to move up.

Savvy Career Move

The career advantage that Mandarin poses is recognized by quite a few people. Although English continues to be the dominant foreign language taught in Japan, Mandarin is right behind and closing the gap. Great Britain is also expanding the opportunities to learn Chinese. Business on the global stage is the force behind all of this. It will not be long before in order to be a serious player on the international business scene, Mandarin fluency will be a must. That is a position held for so long by English.

Some Business Considerations

China as a business culture relies heavily on the building of relationships. Making the effort to learn Mandarin shows your Chinese partners that you are serious about doing business in China, and it is also recognized as a courteous act. Do not confuse written Mandarin with what is spoken. The text is very difficult but Mandarin is not as great a challenge. The grammar is fairly easy and can be grasped quickly. In many ways Mandarin is no more difficult to learn than a number of European languages.

Cautionary Notes

To be sure, there remain some skeptics. They will point out that to be fluent a person needs to spend several years living in China. Mandarin is an important dialect but it is not the only one spoken in mainland China. Cantonese is the predominant form in southern China, and if you are doing business there learning Mandarin could be a waste of time. The Chinese themselves are making great efforts to learn English. You may discover that Chinese associates understand English and the need to learn Mandarin is not very essential. One final thought is about what has happened in the past. Not too long ago Japanese was the foreign language to learn. That was before the economic downturn in Japan, and now that language is not nearly as popular in business. The same may happen in China.

Nevertheless, everything points to China being a dominant economic force for quite some time to come. Making the effort to learn Mandarin now holds the distinct possibility of business advantage, and is worth the time and trouble. It is now recognized as a major business language in the global economy.

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