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Should Expats learn Chinese in Shanghai?

Should Expats learn Chinese in Shanghai?

Every year, more and more foreigners come to China, for studies or for the next step in their career. Some will stay for short time, others will be in China for long, and they have one point in common which is that most of them will learn Chinese at some point. However, for some of them especially expats coming for short time, and even more when moving to Shanghai, investing on Chinese or not remains a big question.

Here are some advices from foreigners who’ve lived in China for a while.

What you can do in Shanghai without any Chinese skills:

Partying: most of famous clubs or pubs will have English speaking staff, but not all of them and not all the staff. So for basic things you should be able to communicate without problems. Things might get harder if you have some special request, specific questions or if you get into trouble areas where freshly arrived foreigners are easy targets (guys or girls hooking you in the street asking if you want a massage or students proposing you to try some amazing teas in a small local shop while having a cultural exchange).

Eating, but mostly foreign food. Local restaurants usually have no English speaking staff in Shanghai, or the most expensive ones.

xiao-long-bao

Travelling through the city, mostly in subway. Indeed, everything is translated in English which is quite convenient. However, if you want to take the cab you will definitely need to speak some Chinese, unless you just show some address in hanzi but the driver will probably still keep on asking you questions in Chinese all the way long and you may end up taking the longest road to reach your destination point.

Meeting people and making friend, but only with foreigners and the few Chinese who can speak English. That being said, those who really do not want to learn Chinese can be reassured because it already makes a lot of people. The bad side of this is that you will surely miss part of the adventure and live almost like you would have back home if you’re already from a big international city.

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Working is of course not a problem neither, as far as you are in an adapted structure and environment.

What you can’t do in Shanghai if you don’t speak any Chinese

Generally speaking, making good deals on a daily basis, as shops with English speaking staffs are more expensive. And at the end, everything added together makes a substantial amount of money. You may buy food more expensive, same will happen with clothes, your flat rent will be higher, and you will often pay more for a drive than would have a Chinese speaking friend. This can be easily solved by acquiring a “survival” level in Mandarin, and you won’t have to learn Chinese in Shanghai for more than 30 to 60 hours to secure it.

dollars and yuans

You will not be able to ask your way, or simply ask questions and exchange with locals, which will make your daily life a little more complex and your experience less rich. Every time you need something you will have to ask a friend who speaks Chinese to help, and since you cannot do it all day long you will end giving up on less essential things. Many Chinese can speak English in Shanghai compared to other Chinese cities, but it still represents a very small part of the population and most of the time, you won’t have anyone close around you able to communicate in English in Shanghai.

You cannot reach a comprehensive understanding of local culture, as it requires daily exchanges with numerous locals at your work, school, in the streets, shops or anywhere possible. You will only be able to interact with those Chinese people who are already interacting with loads of foreigners, and they will naturally be less curious about you since they already got plenty of foreign friends, so less eager to share ideas with you. And as a matter of fact, they will also be much fewer. At the end, all this can make a big difference regarding the personal experience you will acquire, and for the professional side you may miss obvious information and good business opportunities.

guanxi business people

Any conclusion?

In Shanghai, you will be able to survive for sure if you don’t speak any Chinese, which is not the case in all Chinese cities. But your life will be harder, things will take you more time, cost you more money, and the experience you will accumulate through you trip will be poorer. So naturally we recommend you to learn some Chinese, even just a little if you have no time, because you will surely quickly benefit from it once on site.

If you just want to make your daily life easier, pay things their real price and move quicker through the city, 30 to 60 hours of individual Chinese lessons are usually enough, as they will get you to a “survival” or “survival +” level. If you are among the lucky ones who already studied some Chinese at school, it makes even more sense to take few hours of lessons to refresh your mind and most importantly practice your daily oral Chinese, confirm it is operational. In that case 20 to 30 hours of class can be enough, but you definitely need to make sure your pronunciation is right with a professional and probe your oral skills, even basic ones.

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For those who want to fully enjoy their Chinese experience, understand the culture, develop their local network and eventually use these skills for business purposes, they will need to learn Chinese in Beijing or Shanghai for a minimum of 150 to 200 hours (we use 1 to 1 training with a professional and experienced teacher as a reference here). And of course, it will take a lot of curiosity and practice to reach the highest level, but it is definitely worth it and relatively quick to get to.

One last advice, for those who want to make more local friends or do business in Shanghai, once you reached a small level in Mandarin don’t hesitate to learn few basic words of Shanghainese!

Read more:

Learn Chinese in Shanghai
top 5 reasons why you have to learn chinese and take the hsk exam

6 tips to success with your marketing in China
10 digital ways to learn Chinese

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    Speak Chinese and get more responsibilities in China

    Speak Chinese and get more responsibilities in China

    China is racing ahead as a world-class economic power. It has officially left Japan behind as it became the world’s second biggest economy in 2015. It has also overtaken Germany as the world’s biggest exporter and is also a huge contender as one the world’s biggest car markets.

     

    Chinese economic growth has been known to have its cracks and weaknesses but is it stopping? The short answer is no.

    So does that make anyone feel like they should start to learn Chinese? The idea would not be unjustified. Wherever you are from there is a good chance that Chinese cities have a relatively better job market for you, and all you need to unlock all of those possibilities is the key, the lingo.

    It goes without saying that for anyone who wants to set up camp and make a living in China, knowing the language is an advantage, and even more so if you know some of it before arriving.

    Bilingual is better, of course.

    And we don’t just mean that for the expats. If you live in the U.S. or in Europe, it won’t be difficult for you to find some evidence of Chinese implantation at least on a national scale, and this implantation is generally getting stronger and stronger with the time. So at home as much as in Asia, you will surely benefit from mastering Chinese. However, if you really want to fully enjoy the potential of your Mandarin skills, you should try to make sure to reach a high-enough level so that you are able to speak directly with clients or suppliers from China as well as Chinese businessmen in your country, a rather large group of people all things considered.

    communicate-in-chinese

    There are many benefits to picking up this language

    Not to fear though, for although there are many benefits to picking up this language, mandarin is not yet close to becoming the world’s language for business. The fear that all self-respecting business men will have to know Chinese to survive in the next few years is a bit extreme and much of world trade can still thrive on good ol’ English. For sure, Chinese language skills will help anyone standout on the job market, because for one thing it isn’t the easiest language for a foreigner to learn. But speaking Chinese does in no way guaranty your employment. It all depends on how you use it, how far you understand the “Chinese system” and how good you play at it.

    Brian Renwick, an executive Boyden China Ltd recruiting says that Chinese firms still prefer to have main executives from mainland China. He affirms that cultural adaptation is becoming more and more important to Chinese companies. He adds also that if employment candidates with Chinese language skills are lacking in supply, Chinese firms will be much quicker to turn towards other Chinese speaking labour supply such as that from Taiwan, Hong-Kong, Singapore and such.

    learn-chinese-get-a-job

    But the fact remains that there are many opportunities for westerners who speak mandarin. A chief executive of a search firm based in London, Chris van Someren, suggests that the demand for executive positions multinational companies in China has risen by 35 percent in the last year, resounding similarly to figures from other research firms.

    So Chinese language skill are a certified advantage for opening up the job market based in another continent, but what is also fully appreciated by such potential recruiters is a sensitivity towards China’s very strong tradition rooted culture. If you were thinking of learning Chinese for future career development, it’s a plus. But if you want to go all the way in riding the wave that is China’s world expansion, learn some about China’s unique culture and specific ways of doing things.

     

    Learn Chinese in China
    Learn Chinese in Beijing

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