Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Learning Chinese for Business

I'm a Canadian who's been living in China for the past 11 years.  It was originally a six month trip...  And I'm still here...  But, that's another story.

When I first got off the plane, I had no idea how to say "hello" in Chinese.  I wouldn't have even been able to differentiate between Chinese and Korean at the time.

The first time I realized I wanted to make an attempt at the language was when my best friend, who was with me at the time, said "er shi" or "20" to a taxi driver.  I could see the driver understood, and I remember being truly amazed.  My competitive nature kicked in, and I bought some old school books on how to learn Chinese.

I dove in and started memorizing a few random characters.  The local people around me seemed super impressed when I was able to recognize a handful of characters.  Maybe they were just being polite, but I didn't care.  I took it as a compliment and I decided I was going to learn the language.

Here are a few things I remember:

1.  I didn't have a super talent or knack for languages.  I was horrible in French class, and to this day I only know a few words in French and probably couldn't count to 10.

2.  Learning Chinese was more fun, more interesting, and easier than I thought.

3.  The language learning materials back then were HORRIBLE.  It probably took 5-10 times longer to learn back then than it would today with the right approach.

4.  Most people had a really limiting belief system when it came to learning Chinese.  I'm generalizing here, but I remember it being incredibly true almost across the board.  Western people kept talking about how "difficult" it was, even if they'd never tried.  They just figured it must be difficult, and they kept on repeating that mantra.  Chinese people were also always talking about how hard the language is, and how many different meanings different words had.

Everyone made me feel like it would be impossible to learn anything.  Most people quit before they even started.  And all the people I know now who are in that boat have major regrets.

Back then, there was one western guy (Da Shan) who spoke fluent mandarin.  Literally every person I spoke with across the country knew him.  But he was touted almost as some anomaly.  He was like the exception who proved the rule.  One guy was able to learn the language, but that was it.

Fast forward to today.  A lot of foreigners here are able to speak, read, and write.  Depending on what circle you are in, it's not THAT big a deal anymore.  But still, most foreigners do not speak well, and most of them will tell you that they wished they studied more, and that they wished they had a better method.

For many western people who are thinking of coming to China, or for people who have been here for a few years, the old attitudes and beliefs about learning Chinese still prevail.

I just Googled "learning Chinese for business", and I clicked on the first article on the top of the first page. The take I got from it was that learning Chinese would be nice, but realistically, it is probably too hard and may not be worth the time, money, and energy.  Here is the article for you to see

I would like to respectfully disagree with most of the sentiment of the article.  It's exactly this type of belief system that keeps people from learning Chinese.  And it's this type of thinking that makes some people believe, wrongly, that learning Chinese really isn't that important or that useful.  And also that it's extremely difficult to the point where one should consider not trying at all.

Before I jump into specifics for why I disagree in the next blog, I want to open this discussion up in the comments section and see what you guys think.  Do you share similar views?  Do you believe learning Chinese is either a waste of time or something that isn't really that useful or necessary for business?  What do you think of this?  Honestly.  I'm quite curious.  I'll write my views in my next post.


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