Why You Should Speak Chinese in an English Office

One of my goals is to continue working in China after finishing my MBA.  I've begun building my "Guanxi" since coming here, but I've discovered a new unanticipated challenge: become proficient in Chinese.

I've discovered a new unanticipated challenge: become proficient in Chinese

Now, I’m not talking about becoming fluent or being able to read the newspaper, but instead, simply becoming proficient at functioning in a Chinese office environment. These are 3 reasons why having Chinese language skills are vital to fully integrate into your team.

Note:  For those of you who read this and immediately counter with “My Chinese company is located in Mainland China, but the office’s official language is English!”, this is especially for you!

1 Integrate Better with Coworkers

Even in a 100% English speaking office there is still a huge amount of Chinese being spoken.  While it may be true that most “official” communication is conducted in English, most of the informal communication will likely be conducted in Chinese.  Catching up with coworkers, team building, and even small office requests (ie. borrowing a stapler) will likely be done in Chinese.  Small office requests will also likely be done in Chinese.  

Individually, these may not be big things, however they create separation between you and your Chinese coworkers. Eventually this might cause a feeling of isolation for the non-Chinese speaker and ultimately prevent full integration.

2 Encourage Confident Communication

Your native Chinese speaking colleagues can sometimes feel uncomfortable explaining their thoughts in English.  I've often had discussions with coworkers who have told me how they sometimes feel nervous expressing themselves in the office because they’re worried about being misunderstood.

In these situations, briefly confirming their opinion in Chinese can go a long way to help them feel more comfortable and confident when communicating with you. 

3 Reduce Miscommunication

One of the largest problems in a multicultural office is miscommunication.  While it may not completely prevent office tasks from being accomplished, poor communication can greatly reduce your workplace efficiency. 

The benefits of learning Chinese go beyond improved communication.  You begin understanding how native Chinese speakers form sentences and their thought process while communicating. Understanding how people communicate in both English and Chinese really helps prevent miscommunications at the source and can allow your team to get back to work!

A short cut to becoming an asset to a Chinese company is to simply learn some basic Chinese. It shows commitment, patience, understanding and realize that working in a multicultural office setting can require a bit of linguistic give and take.


Danny is currently finishing his Korea University - Fudan University MBA. He's also a Marketing Manager intern at GoEast, and after graduating in January he'd like to continue working for Asia-Pacific-Rim companies. He speaks Korean and basic level Chinese.

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