China and New Zealand Work Together to Promote Mandarin Study

I found this article about a an ambitious program captained by the Confucius Institute at the University of Auckland to quintuple the number of students learning Mandarin in New Zealand.

From the article:

“Last year, the institute placed eight assistants in New Zealand schools to promote the language – this year, that number will be 18.

Under the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement, up to 150 Mandarin assistants can work in New Zealand at any one time.

“We are very encouraged by a near 40 per cent increase in Kiwis learning Mandarin last year and will be doing much more to generate interest in the language this year,” said institute director Nora Yao.

“I will expect a more significant growth, and even if we do not reach our target, I am confident we will get near there.”

This year, 18 schools will be hosting the Chinese language assistants, whose jobs will be to fuel interest in Mandarin among students and train local teachers to teach the language.”

First, kudos to the governments of China and New Zealand for undertaking this effort. It won’t succeed (a huge percentage of those who start studying Mandarin drop out before they learn more than a few phrases), but it is an admirable effort.

Question for the reporter: How do you train local teachers to teach Mandarin when they don’t speak it in the first place? Or, are there already certified teachers in place who are Mandarin speakers and readers?

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Learning Chinese on your iPod

Interesting link here for those who want to learn on the run (an excellent way to learn Chinese when you are busy)

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Chinese Drywall and Working with Chinese Suppliers

Stories like this one are popping up all over the media. People move into a lovely new tract home, bought at a good price, and a year or two later…toxic drywall starts poisoning the occupants and affecting the structure of the building.

I’m not a legal expert, so I’m not going to offer a legal opinion. What I will say is this: Somewhere along the supply chain, someone bought drywall that wasn’t made according to code. Whether the manufacture of toxic drywall on the Chinese side was a purposeful violation of standards for building materials, an unfortunate oversight, or just plain incompetence, somebody in the US, probably several people, sourced and approved the purchase of that drywall.

My guess is that these people had absolutely no idea what they were getting into. They may have hesitated at first and then caved to the pressure to provide materials at lower costs. They may have seen $$ signs in their eyes and gone for it with glee. Who knows what the motivation was? What they probably didn’t realize is that when you source overseas, you have got to be very, very careful about your QC process. You might order one shipment that looks perfect but, six months later, turns out to be defective. You might order a shipment that arrives in perfect order, but the next shipment might be bad. You may think you have the leverage you need to prevent you from getting cheated, only to find out that your definition of leverage is very different from your Chinese partner’s definition.

There are tremendous cost advantages to sourcing overseas, and there are many fine, ethical Chinese suppliers. But in the end, you’re buying something from a country that you probably don’t understand, and from people that you don’t understand. You CANNOT take it for granted that everything will be in order. You have got to put airtight QC/QA procedures in place for every shipment. If that means you have to send a consultant, or hire one in China, to inspect the factory, the materials used, and the finished product for every single shipment, then that’s what you do.

If you don’t do that, then you get to face a bunch of angry homeowners whose lives your poor purchasing practices have destroyed.

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Learning Chinese Initiatives in Australia Flop

Check out this article on the results of a push to teach Asian languages in Australia. From the article:

“Most parents just don’t see the sense in learning Asian languages. What chance is there really that their daughter will need her schoolgirl Indonesian to do business deals? What cultural payoff is there in learning Korean that a child in this essentially European country couldn’t get twice over from learning French?”

Yep.

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Time Magazine Article: A Mandarin School in Minneapolis

Fascinating article here about a Mandarin immersion school in Minneapolis. I believe that attending an immersion school like the Yinghua Academy for several years is one of the only ways a person can become truly fluent in Mandarin while still living in the United States.

From a cross-cultural perspective, check out the part of the article that discusses some of the cultural adaptation challenges the Chinese and Taiwanese teachers are facing. These folks are living in an entirely different world now. I’d love to go and talk with them for a few hours about what the Americans are thinking.

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Cross-Cultural Interactions Between Chinese and Michiganites

Great article here from a local paper detailing the cross-cultural interactions and differences between Chinese and local students in Michigan.

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Cultural Awareness and Doing Business in China

An excellent article on cultural awareness and doing business in China recently appeared in the Miami Herald.

A very insightful read for those who are doing business with or planning to do business with Chinese people.

A some point I’ll open a Chinese language and culture acclimation boot camp for American and Canadian businesspeople who are heading to China for an assignment. Do you think it would be better to hold it in greater China, or in North America? There are advantages and downsides to both.

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Newsweek Article on Learning Mandarin

Newsweek recently posted an article entitled “The Mandarin Scam: So you want to learn Chinese? Your best bet is to say at home.

The author takes issue with the quality of Mandarin language instruction, and the teaching methods used, in China. He concludes that a student of Mandarin Chinese would be better off using online options or staying home and learning.

While I don’t doubt that there are problems with the way Mandarin is taught in China (students who study Mandarin in Taiwan have their fair share of complaints), there is one thing I am sure of: It is ABSOLUTELY IMPOSSIBLE to learn to speak Mandarin fluently if you never live in China or Taiwan.

I suppose there might be a rare exception–someone who moves to an enclave of Chinese speakers abroad and learns to speak Mandarin that way, but for most, they will never achieve fluency until they live abroad in Taiwan or China and speak Mandarin all day, every day, for six months to a year.

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Cultural Differences, Part One: Relationships East and West

Over the next few months, I’ll post a series of articles on the many cultural differences between Chinese speaking and English speaking people.

Eastern and Western cultural differences is a topic I deal with frequently in my training work. I just delivered a seminar entitled “Cultural Differences in Communication” to a group of Citibank managers last week, and will deliver a somewhat similar talk at the European Chamber of Commerce in a few weeks.

Today’s post deals with some of the differences in how relationships are formed and managed in greater China and the West. We’ll start with a question:

What is the primary basis of a deep friendship?

(a) Shared values and interests, i.e. “You and I think alike on several subjects, and we’re interested in the same things.”

(b) Mutual trust and loyalty, i.e. “I know you’ve got my back.”

(c) Shared identity, i.e. “We both work for X company” or “We’re in the same classes.”

(d) The potential for mutual benefit, i.e. “We can help each other out”or “We can take care of each other.”

If you answered (a), you probably grew up in a Western country such as the United States. You choose your friends based primarily on a shared set of values, on your ability to communicate with and relate to someone, and on shared interests in things like sports, movies, and music. Trust and loyalty (choice b) are important later in the relationship, if it progresses far enough to be considered a deep friendship.

People who answered (c) or (d) probably grew up in an East Asian country such as Taiwan.

Personal relationships in many East Asian countries are often formed for very pragmatic reasons. It is very common for people to work together to achieve a goal and help each other out as friends based primarily on the benefits they can provide to each other. Certainly, trust and loyalty are important dynamics in these relationships, just as they are in the West.

This does NOT mean that people in this part of the world won’t enter into friendships with another person because they like that person. It also does NOT mean that everyone is looking for an angle. It simply means that relationships here are often based on a sense mutual benefit or shared identity, far more than they are in the West. Some people have hundreds or even thousands of “friends” in their phone lists. These friends are often mentally categorized by what they are able to do for person who considers them friends, and by what the person who considers them friends is obligated to do for them.

In greater China, local people are often shocked to learn that foreigners who live here aren’t immediately friendly with other foreigners. “Aren’t you all foreigners?” they ask. It is unfathomable that such a shared identity doesn’t generate feelings of friendship.

A few more features of relationships in the East:

-Duty often trumps love. A Chinese person will be polite to an irascible uncle not because he likes him, but because it is his filial duty to put up with whatever the old curmudgeon dishes out. A person will help out a younger classmate or a junior member of her company because she has a responsibility to do so based on her higher status in the group.

-Friends may be called upon to help in ways that are quite inconvenient to them, and they are expected to offer assistance when it is asked for. Saying no is not really an option if you are a true friend. However, if your friend adheres to his own cultural mores, you will be richly rewarded for the effort you have made to help your friend. An organic accounting of favors granted is kept, and it is necessary to repay the giver of the favors with a reward that may surpass the value of the favor granted.

These two dynamics (duty and reciprocity) do come into play in Western countries, but not the extent that they do in the East. For example, in the United States, people are likely NOT to speak to a hypercritical, grumpy old uncle, and while people will try to grant their friends’ requests, they do not feel obligated to go far out of their way to deliver a favor.

Next Article: Communication Styles East and West

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Mandarin in the UK: Insight from Tesco’s Chairman

This article details some of  Tesco Chairman David Reid’s recent comments on the state of Chinese learning programs in the UK.

Echoing the recent comments of Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Mr. Reid made the following statement about the importance of teaching Chinese in UK classrooms: “…The unprecedented speed and scale of changes in China means the UK cannot afford a slow transformation, as that will deny British young people the support they need to best prepare them for a future in which China will play a big role.”

I haven’t seen much in the way of industry leaders encouraging people to learn Chinese. I appreciate Mr. Reid’s comments. More business leaders should speak out in favor of learning Chinese (with appropriate respect given to some of the difficulties of learning the language).

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