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Why you should learn Chinese for business

by Izabela Wisniewska

Anybody paying even the slightest bit of attention to the global economic climate will know that right now, China is going from strength to strength.

After hundreds of year spent in relative obscurity on the international business stage, China is making huge strides. No longer known as a place where the rest of the world goes to get their items made, the hallmark of “Made in China” will soon become less of a joke, and more of a solid endorsement of the products quality.

So should your company bother to learn Chinese? Or employ people who already speak it? You’ve gotten along with plain old English so far, why change? Well there are many potential advantages you may wish to consider.

Burgeoning Superpower

We all know that the USA is still the dominant financial superpower of the world. But China has made gigantic leaps forward over the past few decades. Between 1990 and 2010, their average GDP quadrupled. In 2014, they sat behind the US to the tune of $7 Trillion ($17 Trillion to 10 Trillion), but they still sat $6 Trillion ahead of third placed Japan. And this growth shows no signs of dissipating.

Should this rise continue, there is no telling how big China’s influence could become. The majority of big businesses (in fact all global businesses at this point) have a workforce awash with English speakers, so as to communicate seamlessly with the likes of America, Canada and the UK. If China is about to join these ranks, it only makes sense to get a head start on learning the language.

Head Start . . .

Right now, with any luck, you are already doing well as a business dealing with the countries you already have a relationship with. You may already be dealing with China, albeit by talking with an English speaking party on the customer’s end. So it’s not like you have to rush out and hire Chinese speakers now. As China is still in a state of growth, you have time to get ahead of the curve.

However, if you do chose to teach existing employees Chinese, you will want to get started rather quickly. The language is notoriously tricky - Chinese is written with a complex semanto-phonetic script consisting of tens of thousands of characters instead of a traditional alphabet, and the spoken language is reliant on tones to differentiate words. That is why you’ll want to get as big a head start on learning it as possible.

. . . But Act Fast

That being said, you may not have the luxury of a lot of time. China is not waiting around for the rest of the world to show up on its doorstep with their branded products and services, instead choosing to supplant these existing things with internal alternatives. For example, the heavyweights of social media such as Facebook and Twitter hold almost no authority in China, with home grown social medias standing in their spot already. China has its own car brands, luxury goods labels, and mobile phone networks.

Obviously, some brands have broken through, and are thriving in the country. But who is to say that your company isn’t already being superseded by a Chinese company? Your product or service could be a big hit, but if you miss the boat, a Chinese brand may have already monopolised the market. Find out what alternatives to your company are already active in the country, and use that to dictate the speed at which you need to reach the Chinese market. That will, in turn, tell you roughly how much time you may have to become fluent in Chinese.

Huge Potential Advantages

Let’s say you do successfully become a fluent Mandarin company, and get a foot in the door with your product in China. What potential upsides are their to going through all this hassle?

There could be many, and they could propel your company on to new, unimaginable heights.

The Chinese market is growing. Historically, as GDP of a country rises, so does the disposable income of its people. If you have established your brand at this midway point, you stand to increase your revenue in line with this rise in income. Another advantage is the potential you have to shut the door on other competing companies who didn’t become Chinese friendly as early as you did. Imagine if Coca Cola had launched 50 years ago, and monopolised the cola industry in America. Would Pepsi even bother launching? Coca Cola could quash them easily thanks to their insurmountable position. While you may never get to this level of power, having strong brand recognition and loyalty will go a long way to maintaining your position.

For this reason and many more, it makes all the sense in the world to start learning Chinese ASAP. It has the potential to catapult your business to a position of profitability you could have only dreamt about before!

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