A report was recently published by the British Council, highlighting how critical it is for the UK to invest in upgrading citizens’ ability to understand and engage with people in an international context. Languages for the Future identifies the priority languages for the country’s future prosperity, security and influence in the world, in a post Brexit context. It assesses which languages the UK needs most according to a variety of economic, geopolitical, cultural and educational factors. And, surprise surprise, Mandarin was identified as a second most important language!
It could be argued that those who do not speak a second language will have less access to overseas work experience, a lack of international business awareness, and a lower level of knowledge and appreciation of the way in which other cultures operate.
Currently only one in three British people report that they can hold a conversation in another language, and there’s been a decline in numbers for language exams and qualifications. A report to UK Trade and Investment a couple of years ago suggested that poor language skills, as well as the assumption that international business colleagues will speak English, costs the UK economy about 3.5 per cent of total GDP!
So why learn Mandarin in particular?
The basic acquisition of a second language is incredibly valuable, and Mandarin is an excellent choice, given it’s spoken by over 1.2 billion people worldwide – making it the world’s most spoken first language and the second most important global business language after English. As well as The People’s Republic of China, Mandarin is spoken in countries and areas such as Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand, Brunei, the Philippines and Mongolia.
In 2010, China broke East Asian Economic rival, Japan’s, hold on the title of the ‘World’s Second Largest Economy’. The general consensus among economists is that China will overtake the US to become the world’s largest economy before 2030, with Forbes expecting China to overtake the States in 2018 and others arguing that China is already the world’s largest economy. The value of skills in language and communication, within such an important global super-power, cannot be understated in a global economic context. Chinese is a key business language spoken by many CEOs – as Mark Zuckerburg demonstrates. A knowledge of Chinese bridges the cultural gap between East and West, supporting successful international partnerships. Partnerships and connections (Guanxi) are an intrinsic part of Chinese business culture, and being able to communicate and show respect for the country, is a springboard for success in China.
An issue many have with Mandarin is how daunting an undertaking it can seem when first learning, with written characters and spoken tones being utterly alien concepts to many in the West. However, Mandarin is at its core a logical language, and there’s no need to worry about verbs, plurals, tenses, subject-verb agreement, and conjugations. While there are 80,000 Chinese characters, only around 3,500 are used for common reading and writing. For those looking to acquire Mandarin language skills, immersing yourself in the country and practising daily, can make it one of the most rewarding learning experiences going!
Living and working in a country like China, offers those who wish to learn Mandarin the opportunity to do so in a professional and immersive environment, while simultaneously imbedding the skills and benefits granted through International Work Experience.
What is the benefit of International Work Experience more generally?
Many graduate employers and businesses have publicly expressed a concern with a lack of international awareness within the UK graduate community, and concern about their ability to operate effectively in a global economy. This is particularly concerning considering the strong outward mobility and cultural skills being swiftly acquired by jet-setting students and graduates from many other countries!
The skills of flexibility and adaptability in an international context are real selling point in a CV and at interview. Proving your ability to cope under difficult circumstances and maintain professional standards in a completely different cultural context is unique selling point that really separates those with international work experience from the crowd. In a notoriously fast paced and dynamic country, such as China, this is only highlighted further!
Demonstrable cross-cultural understanding is another vitally important benefit of international work experience. Proving that you were able to traverse culturally sensitive areas in a professional and social context and that you will be able to bring a real and tangible level of cultural knowledge and understanding to the table, about the word’s most important developing country, is a priceless benefit of international work experience.
International experience in the Education Sector has both specific transferable benefits and take-aways, such as teaching skills, lesson planning and importantly handling a classroom with students from a totally different culture and background to your own (a valuable transferable skill for schools in the West!). It also presents you with a plethora of transferable skills, including; presentation skills, time management, showmanship, the ability to train and impart knowledge, organization of busy schedules and much more!
In summary, language and communication skills are vital if we hope to keep up with a diversifying and dynamic world. Partnerships and understanding can spring from these skills, and on current trends there seems to be no better country on earth to have an understanding and connection with than China, with Mandarin language acquisition at the core of this.
Download the full British Council report at: https://www.britishcouncil.org/organisation/policy-insight-research/languages-future-2017
Opportunity China operate the Teach China Graduate Program, which combines skills training with a graduate teaching role in China. Applications are welcomed from ambitious graduates across all subject disciplines. The Program has a bi-annual intake; February and September.