Case Study – Chinese language is a must for foreigners, survey of expat says

Learning the Chinese language is a must for doing business in Taiwan, according to an informal survey of the members of Taipei Impact Entrepreneurs (TIE), the largest group of foreigner startup professionals in the country.

Out of 72 respondents, 53 or 73% answered ‘Learning Chinese is necessary for foreigner founders in Taiwan,” while 14 or 19% answered “It depends on the type of business and whether a local founder is available as co-founder.” The rest, 5 or 7% say “Learning Chinese is NOT necessary for foreigner founders in Taiwan.” The sample respondent size is taken from TIE, which has the largest number of active members at 2,900 as of this writing.

“Taiwan is not an easy market (if not a difficult one), and that alone merits time and efforts to be put into learning the language if one wearing the hat of “foreigner founder” aspires to be successful in this market,” said survey respondent Justine Chen, a Canadian who works for VMLY&R COMMERCE as Senior Account Manager.

In explaining his answer Martin Schnoor Warming, Danish, Managing Director at Renewable Construction Academy said, “Clearly depending on the business area, the market and your ability to recruit people who can communicate with your stakeholders that doesn’t communicate in other languages than Chinese.”

The survey was done in light of the fact that Mandarin is the hardest language to learn. To be sure, babel.com said that Mandarin Chinese is the hardest language to learn while being the most widely spoken native language in the world.

“Mandarin Chinese is challenging for a number of reasons. First and foremost, the writing system is extremely difficult for English speakers (and anyone else) accustomed to the Latin alphabet. In addition to the usual challenges that come with learning any language from scratch, people studying Mandarin must also memorize thousands of special characters, unlike anything seen in Latin-based languages,” writer Dylan Lyons said in his article “The 6 Hardest Languages for English Speakers to Learn.”

Learning the language is beyond survival

“Learning Chinese is very difficult and challenging and sometimes it is a long-term process and you might not immediately see the benefits. But I think if you’re doing business in any country, a big thing is that intangible element, it’s the element of connection, of showing that you actually care.” said in an interview with Jamie Rufe, Founder and CEO of Warp Speed Chinese, a program for quick and effective Chinese lessons for beginners.

“For example, if you’re doing a business in Taiwan, [learning the language] shows that you care about this place,” Rufe, who is also one of the leaders of TIE group, said.

He also echoed the importance of having a local founder. “I think, regardless whether you’re starting a business in Taiwan or any country where you are a foreigner, it just makes sense to have a local partner or friend to help you through that process (of doing business) because they might be savvy to information, laws, procedures that you don’t understand. It doesn’t matter how good your Chinese is [or local language of that country you’re in as a foreigner] . . . having that type of local inside information, domain knowledge [is something] you won’t be able to get by yourself,” Rufe noted.

Speed up learning hack for beginners

Rufe said that common method of teaching Mandarin is getting the students learn characters from the beginning, whether at local training center, with a tutor, or textbook.

“From my experience and talking to a lot of different people, for a lot of people this [learning Chinese Character first] is a recipe for failure. Learning how to speak the language, with tones with different set of vocabulary and having to learn hundred or thousands of characters from the very beginning for a lot of people is too much,” Rufe said.

The hack is to postpone learning the characters for a period of six months. “Don’t learn the characters in the beginning, get comfortable with the spoken language. Before you dive in to learning the language trying to learn a lot of sentences and phrases, make sure you gain a general mastery, proficiency in the sounds and the tones. If you do those two things, you’re setting yourself up for success,” Rufe noted.

Jamie is a professional Chinese language coach based in Taiwan, with 15 years of Mandarin Chinese experience. He has lived and worked in the Chinese-speaking world for the past 10 years: 3 years in China and 7+ years in Taiwan.

His last corporate job was as Executive Assistant to the Chairman & CEO of Foxconn – Terry Gou. Jamie graduated from the University of Pennsylvania with a Bachelor of Science in East Asian Languages, Literatures, and Linguistics.

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