Friday, December 10, 2010

Coming to China as an Expat, Should I Learn Chinese?

Your company is sending you to China for an extended amount of time; for example… 3 to 4 year contract.  And you are considering that it might not be necessary to learn the language!?!?

China is the most populated country.  Is the country you see on the evening news, website news, and newspapers, everyday.  The discussions are non-stop;  China’s economic rise, China’s manufacturing, China surpassing all other developed nations in growth….

Why would you not first think, “For sure, I’ve got to learn the language?”  Why would you not be adamant in wanting to acquire a basic level of Mandarin?    

Yes, yes, it is true, as an expat, coming over on an expat-style package, working for a multinational company or even a mid-tier company, you can live somewhat comfortably without ever speaking 1 word of Chinese. 

In fact, the more money you make, the less Chinese you have to speak.  You can live in your expat-inhabited compound, have an English speaking driver, hang out in expat social circles, shop at import food stores and eat at American / European style restaurants.

…but that’s not living in China.  The Chinese will seem to respect you, because of your money and nationality.  But the less Chinese you speak, the more of an outsider you are. 

The Chinese for a large portion already consider foreigners (which generally applies to Westerners) as novelties.  If you cannot speak the language, you only fuel the stereotype. 

I’m not saying 100% fluency is required; but make an effort.  Most expats can afford the price of a private tutor that costs approx USD10 to USD15 an hour.  Take an hour or two a week. 

Emphatically insist your company provide you the channel or allow you the time to study! 

Make the effort and take the time.  It greatly increases your quality of life here;  perhaps not materially, but in your daily interaction;  in the confidence you can have while walking down the street, shopping or something more serious like going to the hospital.

Do you want to get treated like a baby everywhere you go? 

Should other folks have to cater to you and speak English?  (which yes, China’s English ability is growing, but the conversation really takes off once you can blast them w/Mandarin sentences) 

Would you want to live somewhere for an extended period of time and have a communication handicap that doesn’t allow you to speak with the masses?

Do you want to get the most out of your life in China and also from the culture and people that are set to surpass all current nations and peoples of the world in growth, expansion…and everything else?

Don’t delay, start taking classes, you’ll be glad you did.

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