Do I need to know Chinese to be successful in China?
19.3.2016 - Bart Horsten
In 2004 - 2005 I had the chance to study Mandarin Chinese by taking private lessons from a Belgian teacher in Antwerp (writing, reading and conversation). My Chinese language skills are still very basic, but I manage to get around in China on my own: I can order food (an important skill as a big fan of Chinese food), catch a taxi and have a basic day-to-day conversation in Chinese. Additionally, when having business diners, it’s a very nice instrument to ‘break the ice’. Unfortunately – often to my own frustration – I never use it for business discussions and always have to rely on my interpreter or have the meeting in English.
Many people ask me if it is necessary to be able to speak Chinese to be successful in China.
My answer to that question is always the same: not being able to speak Chinese can never be a reason for your failure in China or for not being successful in China. Or in other words, in case you fail in China, there are probably many other reasons for this failure, such as poor preparation, wrong business partners, insufficient follow-up or commitment, changing market conditions, cultural misunderstandings, etc.
So, if you are planning to do business in China, learning the Chinese language is not necessarily the first thing you need to do. Much more important is the need to understand the cultural differences, be aware of the typical pitfalls and talk to experts or other companies who can share with you their experiences in China.
Once you have done that, you can surely find many people who can help you with translations in China. Just make sure you choose the right interpreter, someone who is on your side and knows your business and your expectations, and not an interpreter appointed by the Chinese counterpart.
Obviously, if you are able to speak Chinese, it is definitely a big advantage when doing business in China. Apart from being able to talk to your Chinese partners in their own language, it will also help you to better understand the culture of this fascinating country. I am always very jealous when I meet Western people who speak fluent Chinese.
If you need any help with translation or in case you need any other information, we invite you to contact us.