What would make you learn Chinese?

Headhunters are already talking about the fact that Chinese will overtake French or Spanish in importance. That may be an exaggeration. But how important is Chinese for a career?

From Susanne Wagner

"There are two groups that decide to learn Chinese. One is preparing for a trip to China and wants to be able to order properly in the restaurant. The other are business people who need Chinese for work," says Angelika Wishart. Head of Languages ​​at the Migros Club School in Basel.

How hard is Chinese?

One could speak of a Chinese boom: "Until recently, we only offered two Chinese courses; today there are twelve parallel courses of various levels of difficulty." There are currently two summer intensive courses in Chinese, both of which are fully booked. In contrast to other language courses with a high proportion of women, the proportion of men and women learning Chinese is roughly the same.

Is it at all realistic for Europeans to learn this difficult language with a completely different syntax here in Switzerland? Especially since the characters are unfamiliar, you cannot cling to any previously learned language and four different tones give the Chinese syllables a different meaning. Of course there are always learners who stop after a few courses, Angelika Wishart admits. But that is also the case with English or French courses.

Plus point in the résumé

"Chinese is certainly much more difficult than, for example, Italian. If you stick with it, however, it is realistic to have a simple conversation after two years. Many people also go to China one or more times," says Angelika Wishart. In the most advanced Chinese course at the Basel Club School, the seven participants who stayed for seven years already speak the language fluently. Incidentally, a standard language is taught which is called Putonghua in the People's Republic of China; Mandarin is the common but outdated name for it in this country.

Mastering Chinese more or less is definitely a plus point on a resume. The language skills are particularly helpful for expatriots who have been living in China for a long time. It becomes easier to socialize with locals. The risk of social isolation in the new country is reduced.

Chinese is rarely specifically required

Knowledge of Chinese is rarely required of employers. "Knowledge of the Chinese language is definitely a plus for employees whose activities focus heavily on China," explains Melanie Nyfeler from the ABB Switzerland media office. The group employs around 12,000 people in China. 19 expatriots from Switzerland are currently working for ABB in China.

However, they are not required to speak perfect Chinese: "The employees who work on site in China for a few weeks usually communicate in English and are supported by ABB employees from the Chinese subsidiary." For employees who stay in China for two or more years, ABB offers the opportunity to learn the local language up to a certain level. Melanie Nyfeler: "This is used again and again and can facilitate cooperation with ABB internal and external partners."

The market is growing

It sounds similar with other internationally active Swiss companies. "The official business language of Nestlé is English," said a Nestlé press officer. The group employs a total of 14,000 people in China, 71 of whom are expatriots. For them, knowledge of Chinese is certainly an advantage, but it does not have a major impact on their careers, as the sessions are usually held in English.

"The Chinese market is growing and China has become more important in recent years," confirms Alexander Klauser, media spokesman at Roche. The group was the first pharmaceutical company in the world to open a research center in Shanghai, China. On the one hand, it is always an advantage if you can speak a language. On the other hand, important negotiations are usually conducted with Chinese translators. "Language skills in Chinese are therefore rarely one of the decisive points when a candidate applies."

Language stays possible

However, some are so fascinated by the Chinese language that they want to deepen their knowledge of the country. Most of those willing to learn who book a language course in China with Hermosa Language Stays in St. Gallen are between 25 and 40 years old. "As a rule, they are people who already have some basic language skills. Many of them work in the field and work for companies that have a branch in China. They stay in the country for between four and eight weeks," explains customer advisor Lucia Podolsky.

On offer are language stays in Beijing and Shanghai, where the learners live with a host family, in a shared flat or in an apartment. Lucia Podolsky: "Staying with a Chinese host family is particularly worthwhile for people who already speak some Chinese."

(Image: Yeti, Fotolia.com)

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