A big aspect in Chinese business is that of 关系. This involves building relationships and doing business with those you trust. Being introduced to someone as a trusted individual will put you much further ahead than cold calls.
While those you deal with may speak much better English than your Chinese, any effort you put in to learning their language, even if it just begins with a few words and expressions can help you build these relationships.
Even if you don’t use these words yourself, knowing them will also help you understand the communication you may hear between Chinese people discussing business topics.
Pick the vocabulary that interests you, that you think you’re likely to hear or use first, then slowly expand to other items.
If you’re planning to spend an extended period of time in China and Taiwan and are looking to date locals, you should be able to find communities of locals interested in foreign cultures who are interested in dating foreigners. Some of these relationships start off as language exchanges where a mutual exchange of language and culture can first occur before moving on to a more in depth relationship.
In most cases, the locals’ knowledge of English will exceed your knowledge of Chinese. So conversations will be in mostly English. But any effort you put in learning Chinese should go appreciated. Start with a few words here and there, and slowly build that into expressions and later sentences.
If you’re hired to teach English in a China or Taiwan, you’re usually not expected to know or speak any Chinese, as your main role is to speak in English. There is usually an assistant Chinese teacher provided to help facilitate classroom management if there is a problem with communication.
Having said that, watching the assistant teacher communicate with the class in Chinese and listening to how students respond in Chinese is a great way to build understanding of your own Chinese, as you’ll hear a lot of common words and expressions repeated, so use this as a learning opportunity!
Many Chinese restaurants post menus outside the restaurant. It is perfectly normal to view the menu first before deciding whether you eat at the restaurant.
Food court type restaurants tend to have large bright pictures, or even plastic models of the various dishes they serve so you can point out the item that appeals to you.
Some restaurants may not have traditional western forks, as locals use chopsticks to eat. It is recommended you get familiar with using chopsticks first (or bring a fork with you).
Note when shopping that while haggling might be common with street vendors or in night markets, it’s usually not done in shopping centers or at standalone stores. Don’t worry if you don’t get your numbers in Chinese correct, as vendors will usually have a calculator handy just for foreign tourists.
If you’re really looking for a bargain, it may be helpful to have a local around to make sure what you’re purchasing is a bargain and that you’re not being charged extra for being foreign.
The good news about counting in Chinese is that it’s a LOT simpler than in English or other languages. Once you’ve learned to count to ten, you have all the vocabulary needed to count to 99. Instead of using new words like “twenty”, “thirty” etc. they simply use “two ten”, “three ten” etc. This same concept applies for the most part for higher numbers as well.
Like the vocabulary for other lessons in this series, don’t overwhelm yourself. Pick the numbers you think you’re most likely to use then learn them. Even if you don’t remember the right number to use when out and about, you can always get by using fingers or a nearby calculator.
It may seem like there is a lot to learn in this lesson. The good news is that the phrases mentioned here are ones you’ll probably use over and over, as these are common questions that people will ask you during your travels. Don’t overwhelm yourself. Start with the ones you’ll think are the most useful to learn, then expand to others as you encounter them. If there’s a word, expression or question that you think should be added to this list, feel free to leave a comment.
Chinese people tend to be very friendly, especially to foreigners. They usually show appreciation when you take the time to greet them in their own language. So use this opportunity to practice what you’ve learned.
Note that depending on where you are, they may use this opportunity to strike up a conversation with you to learn more about you. Like with any other culture, smiling and showing a genuine interest in communicating with them will be appreciated.
As your Chinese improves, a common question you may hear asked is 你吃饭了吗. This is a common expression asked to make sure you’ve been fed. In return you can reply 吃饭了.
Chinese is a tonal language. Since many words and concepts are monosyllabic, Mandarin uses 4 tones to distinguish between them. In fact, if you took out all the tones, there would only be around 400 words left in the entire language! The four tones are as follows:
• high tone: the tone starts high and stays constant
• rising tone: the tone rises from middle to high
• falling rising tone: the tone starts in the middle, falls, then rises up
• falling tone: the tone starts high and then falls abruptly
Listen to Kirin’s pronunciation of the word zhu using the four tones. Notice the tone marks used below, above the “u” to indicate which tone is being used to pronounce it. Tones marks like this will be used to indicate which tone should be used.
The best way to get a feel for the tones is to listen to how Chinese speakers say them. Over time you may also notice that sometimes in the middle of speech tones can change depending on where they are being sandwiched. This is why it is important to listen carefully to how Kirin says the words in the podcast and to repeat them in the same manner.
Background on Pinyin:
The system of transcribing Chinese into English that we are using here is called Pinyin (literally means “spell sound” in Chinese). It was developed in China in the late 1950s. It is based on English pronunciation so in general what you see written is what it sounds like. It is used today in China to teach elementary students how to pronounce words correctly and how to write essays before they have acquired enough Chinese characters to be able to do so.