Learning Mandarin is both fascinating and very tough. It is a language where a single word character can tell a centuries old ancient story between friends, about an ancient war, or symbolize goodness as the love between mother and child. To people born in western countries rooted in English and the other romance languages, the world of Chinese character-based language brings a fresh challenge to the way their brains are wired. Yet, with China’s continued rise on the world stage, China’s language also invites us to learn, to open our minds and our lives to a whole new world. Yes friends, Mandarin in today’s world is our “nouveau essential” language to learn.

For many foreigners with lives deeply established in far away countries, there may be an interest in Chinese language and culture, but not necessarily the circumstances or interest to move to China to live for awhile. Many of us understand that immersing ourselves in a culture along with taking up language courses is the best way to learn a new language and understand the history & culture that goes along with it. For example, there are hundreds of thousands of foreign expats on corporate employment contracts here in China. Many of them take Chinese lessons as part of their daily routine managing their companies which of course includes their local Chinese employee teams.

However, the option to move abroad is not always possible and in today’s world, more people than ever living in other countries have their businesses intertwined in some way with China and therefore, a rising need to finally become more familiar with its native language back in their own home countries.

As CCG President Wang Huiyao discusses in the new book, China To The World, China’s embrace of globalization mean China’s voice has become stronger in the international arena, yet that many China related narratives often become distorted in today’s increasingly complex geopolitical environment. Regardless of one’s views on the geopolitical front, essential communication runs in both directions. China has a responsibility to make itself understood to the world while individual foreigners who acquire the language also become an increasingly essential voice in helping the western world to understand and develop with China’s continued rise.

Besides over one third of the world’s Fortune 500 companies doing business with China, there are thousands more Chinese companies who have established business operations overseas, starting with the more well known national brands like Geely, BYD, Huawei, Xiaomi, ZTE, Haier and countless others. China’s increasing international market presence means a simultaneous rise in the need and interest to learn Chinese language for so many reasons with the trend firmly established and only expected to continue.

And that’s where CLEC, the China Centers for Language Education & Cooperation play a role. Having established well over a thousand Confucius Institutes and classrooms across the world, CLEC offers Chinese language and culture courses including calligraphy, martial arts and traditional Chinese music. They also support the HSK language proficiency tests recognized by many academic institutions and employers around the world.

Let’s take a moment to point out that while there are many recent challenges, geopolitical tensions and other uncertainties, foreign companies are still increasing their investments in China and vice versa. One such example is BMW with its ever expanding factories based in China’s northeast capital of Shenyang, Liaoning province. The new Sino-German Investment Park is a joint venture between BMW and Brilliance China Automotive Holdings, Ltd. More importantly, it means that with BMW’s increasing commitment to China, they have an increasing need for their German expat employees still living back in Germany to learn Chinese language as one of their managerial skill sets.

We would be remiss if we didn’t mention the many prominent business people like investor Jim Rogers, Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk and celebrities like Kobe Bryant and Will Smith, who are wisely committed to their children’s learning Mandarin as essential language skills for today’s world and the future.

Organizations with strong commitments and presence here in the China market include dozens of Chambers of Commerce including the European Union and American Chambers of Commerce. Despite the divisive geopolitical considerations, their latest company membership annual surveys clearly indicate the importance of the China market for international companies including a continuation of increased commitment and investment by over 30% of their member companies. These same global Fortune 500 companies recognize the rising use of Mandarin in response to China’s rising influence and relationship building across the globe in four main categories:

  1. Economic Growth will continued to create a rising demand for Mandarin Chinese language skills in the business world.
  2. Diplomatic Relations are more important than ever as China’s increasing global influence has made it a major player in international diplomacy. Diplomats, ambassadors, politicians, and international business leaders have an essential need to understand and build strong, positive relationships and business with China.
  3. Cultural Exchange: As China’s influence grows, so does the interest and need to understand its culture. In fact, more and more foreigners find their lives increasingly immersed in the values and traditions of Chinese culture & history. This includes the ability to speak the language which creates the much needed deeper understandings of daily life, how Chinese think, its perspective, culture, literature, and history.
  4. Travel to China is back on the table now that we are in the post-pandemic era with open borders, so becoming an increasingly popular destination for foreign tourists and travelers. Likewise, many businesses including retail, service, tourism and hotel providers fully understand the value of the outbound Chinese tourists visiting other countries of the world and known to be among the world’s highest spending tourists, generating important revenue for those industries in the destination countries.

We shall encourage the world to look beyond divisive geopolitics, recognizing the wonderful and substantial opportunities China’s rise has created for people and companies of countries throughout the world. Of note is the Chinese government’s commitment to peaceful bilateral ties, its expansion with other countries without starting or being involved in any wars, attacking or invading any other nation on earth; another key point revealing a deeper understanding of China’s values as a country & society. Many aspects of China’s commitment to peace, to avoiding conflict at all costs are found in the rich nuance of its native language.

The world’s most respected organizations, universities, corporations and institutions including Harvard, Edelman PR, McKinsey, BMW,  The World Bank, IMF, Brookings Institution and countless others recognize China’s peaceful rise and the need to master its language is sure to continue for decades to come. It’s efforts through development models such as the Belt & Road Initiative, China Development Bank, China-Africa Development Fund and Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank bring non-violent, safety & stability as a foundation to its development with other countries.

Thus it is plain to see, the citizens of those many countries engaging on the continents of our world with China will also be increasingly embracing Chinese language learning as an essential part of their daily lives & interests. So yes, dear friends, the world of Mandarin does bring a fresh challenge to the way our brains are wired, yet here we are , increasingly invited to learn, to open our minds and our lives to a whole new world, the world of Chinese language. Indeed, “nouveau essential”.

Mario Cavolo
Non Resident Senior Fellow, Center For China and Globalization
February 28, 2023


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