Mandarin in business: Is it still the language of the future?

The boom of the Chinese economy at the beginning of the century suggested that Mandarin would soon be indispensable for business: was that the case?

Mandarin in business: Is it still the language of the future?

The latest forecasts predict that China will surpass the US GDP to become the first global economy in 2032. China's economic and industrial power is real, and although its growth has declined, the relationship with this power remains indispensable for companies. However, English proficiency and high barriers to entry into Chinese mean that this relationship has not been translated into Mandarin.

Leer en español: Chino para los negocios: ¿Sigue siendo la lengua del futuro?

When it was believed that China's growth would be unlimited, it became common to allude to the fact that Mandarin would be the language of the future, particularly when it comes to business. However, now that there is more clarity regarding the role that China plays in international trade, it is important to evaluate if its language is seriously vital for success in international business.

English continues its domain

English is still the closest there is to a world language. According to international treaties it is the official language of maritime and aeronautical communications, and of many international organizations such as the United Nations and the International Olympic Committee.

In addition, English is the most widely used language in the sciences by an overwhelming margin. Research from the SCOPUS scientific database indicates that 80% of the scientific articles published there are entirely in English.

Beyond the recognition that this can give to the language, the truth is that it is spoken by 1,500 million people, 20% of the world population, and that is by far the language that most people want to speak ir, with 1,500 million people learning it, according to data collected by the Washington Post.

To compare, French, the second language that most people seek to learn in the world, is studied by 82 million people, and Chinese is only studied by 30 million. In addition, it is important to understand that the country where most people seek to learn English is the same China.

With 1,500 million people speaking the language, and with another 1,500 million learning it, the usefulness of English for business or for politics is unquestionable.

A great wall makes it difficult to enter Chinese

Chinese has more native speakers than English, with 1.4 billion people with this language as their mother tongue, it is far from irrelevant on the international scene. However, for those who aspire to speak it, the complexity of the language and the investment of time it takes to master it often exceeds the benefits that can bring.

Alex Berghofen, founder of HELEX Asia, a recruiting firm for Chinese companies, assures us that the enormous dedication that Mandarin Chinese requires makes learning it the ideal way for all people.

"It is impossible to develop fluency in Mandarin without spending 3 or 4 years living in China. Unless you're in your twenties and want to make this investment of time, chasing Mandarin may not be advantageous for your career", says Berghofen.

For Simon Bell, who leads the British branch of the recruiting company Page Executive, this has caused employers, including Chinese, to stop looking for good Mandarin management in their candidates.

"If a company approached us and asked us to work in the Chinese markets, they would say that the use of the Chinese language is desirable, but not essential, so as not to limit the number of potential applicants," Bell said.

Bell also assures that many of the firms he has worked with sought to expand to China or India, but that, in both cases, the language they required to manage big business was still English.

Latin American Post | Pedro Bernal

Translated from "Chino para los negocios: ¿Sigue siendo la lengua del futuro?"

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