Will Learning Chinese Boost Your MBA Career?

Will Learning Chinese Boost Your MBA Career?

China is the second biggest economy in the world and one of the most important trading partners for companies globally, particularly in Asia and the US. As a result, many MBAs are flocking to China, either to complete their studies or for jobs post-graduation.

Chinese is the single most common spoken language, with one-fifth of the world’s population speaking it. Learning Chinese Mandarin isn’t just beneficial for doing business in China – Mandarin is also spoken in countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore. Therefore, it’s no surprise that learning Mandarin can be a great weapon to have in your arsenal when applying for jobs. Read on to find out the benefits of learning Chinese, the pitfalls to consider, and what schools offer Chinese tuition as part of your studies.

What are the benefits of learning Chinese?

Learning Mandarin can help to develop a stronger relationship with Chinese business partners. Even if you require interpreters for more in-depth discussions, making an effort to speak the language develops a better interpersonal relationship, which is very important in Chinese business. Mandarin competency can also come in useful when checking documents like contracts.

Having a grasp on the Chinese language will help if you work in consumer goods, as it will help you understand the culture and find out about competitor products. This will help you avoid embarrassing translation mishaps. Take Pepsi’s translation fail for example, where the slogan ‘Pepsi Brings You Back to Life’ was mistranslated in China as ‘Pepsi Brings Your Ancestors Back from the Grave’!

Learning Mandarin hones your communication skills, both verbal and non-verbal, helping you to negotiate better with suppliers or customers. You can become an interpreter for your organization and ensure that leadership comprehends all the nuances of what is being said, avoiding confusion and getting the best possible results for both parties.

If you are an international business traveler, learning Chinese will make travel much smoother, particularly within smaller cities in China where English translations of signs in stations and roads are much less common.

Chinese people are often very proud of their culture, history, literature and language. As such, they appreciate a foreigner making an obvious commitment to learning about China. Banquets and drinking sessions are an important part of Chinese business culture and being able to talk to your hosts in their own language is a great help (particularly as banquets can last up to 5 hours) and is a sign of respect.

Chinese Mandarin seems intimidating for beginners, but the tonal differences are the main issue, as grammatically, sentences are structured in much the same way as English sentences – subject, verb, object.

As learning Chinese requires so much rote learning, it’s great for your memory. It’s also a seriously impressive skill to have on your CV for most Western businesses.

What to consider before learning Chinese

Despite the advantages of learning Mandarin, you must be aware that in many situations, moving to a Mandarin-speaking country with knowledge of the language won’t necessarily give you an advantage.

If you’re competing in a Mandarin-speaking job market, you will be up against native speakers who will speak the language better than you. It will, however, give you an advantage with an international company that does a lot of business in China (like HSBC, for example). Your professional experience is just as important (if not more) as your ability to speak Mandarin.

Mandarin also takes a long time to learn, particularly for a native English speaker. You can expect to undertake around 2,200 hours of class study (plus the same amount of individual study) to achieve proficient levels of Mandarin.

Learning Chinese quickly to boost your resume is ill-advised and near-impossible; your motivation to learn the language should be to understand where you live and work better.

Learning Chinese at business school

A number of Chinese universities offer Chinese language learning programs as part of, or in addition to, your MBA tuition.

China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) recommends non-native Chinese speakers attend a Chinese language course in the summer before MBA classes begin. Mandarin courses are also offered at different levels for international students during the first year of the program.

Tsinghua University also offer one-month summer Chinese language programs. These aren’t specifically for MBA students but can be a helpful start, particularly as you will be able to practice your skills in Beijing.

Outside of China, many other universities offer Chinese learning programs in conjunction with MBA study.

INSEAD famously requires students to complete an ‘Exit Language Requirement’ where students can’t graduate unless they prove at least a basic level of knowledge in a commercially useful language which is the official language of a country other than one’s native language or English. There are regular Mandarin courses on campus.

London Business School also allows students to learn Mandarin alongside their MBA studies, encouraging them to practice with native speakers in their cohort.

Written by Julia Gilmore

Julia is a writer for TopMBA.com, publishing articles for business students and graduates across the world. A native Londoner, she holds an MSc in Marketing Strategy & Innovation from Cass Business School and a BA in Classical Studies & English from Newcastle University.

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