BCECC Newsletter: Is learning Chinese useful for Belgians?

Unfortunately you cannot travel to China these days. This is therefore the perfect opportunity to invest your available time to learn some Chinese. Starting from September, the Belgian-Chinese Chamber of Commerce (BCECC) will start their 4th edition of the Business Chinese language courses in cooperation with the Confucius Institute at Group T – Academy.

Whether you are the CEO of a company or working in export management or customer service, if you are doing business with China, learning the language and the culture is definitely a valuable investment of your time.

The online courses will run from September 20 to November 26 in 10 sessions of 90 minutes each. There are three levels for different target groups:

  1. Level 1: absolute beginners who want to start from scratch
  2. Level 2: people who are familiar with about 100 words and the pinyin system
  3. Level 3: advanced learners who have already mastered about 250 words

Previous online courses were successfully organized in September 2020, January 2021 and April 2021. The courses are taught by a top-notch teacher, Prof. Dun Liao, who has been teaching Mandarin Chinese for 20 years in China, Asia and the UK. Participants learned some basic sentences on useful communication topics and received some grammatical and cultural tips as well.

You may argue, why do I need to learn Chinese? Most of the people you communicate with in China probably already speak a decent level of English and when you have business meetings with Chinese customers or partners, interpreters might be used. Nevertheless, if you know the basics of the Chinese language, you will more easily grasp the subtle differences in tone of voice and read between the lines.

As is the case in most parts of the world, language defines culture and culture defines language in China as well. Hence, understanding the basics of the Chinese language will help you to understand your Chinese stakeholders and improve your cross-cultural communication. Furthermore, it will be quite handy to get around in China, for example to order food, to use Chinese apps, to get a taxi or have a basic day-to-day conversation in Chinese.

Even knowing a few words of Chinese can be a big advantage when doing business in China. For example, it’s a very nice instrument to ‘break the ice’ at business dinners, which is extremely important to build the trust with your Chinese partners. Showing that you take the effort to learn Chinese will give you a lot of recognition and sympathy from your Chinese counterparts. It shows that you have well prepared your China project and are not there for a quick win. In short, you are taken more seriously.

There are two main Chinese languages: Mandarin and Cantonese. With more than 1,3 billion speakers, Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world. Two sets of characters are used for writing Chinese, also known as simplified and traditional characters. These characters are usually very similar. The only difference between them is that simplified characters are easier and faster to read and write. Although the Cantonese language shares a lot of vocabulary with Mandarin, the two varieties are mutually unintelligable, because of differences in pronunciation, grammar and lexicon.

Unlike letters of the alphabet in English, Chinese characters don’t tell you how they should sound when spoken. To solve this, the Romanized pronunciation system also known as ‘Pinyin’ came into place. Aside from representing the way Mandarin is pronounced, Pinyin is also the main way of typing Chinese. Tones are an unavoidable part of the language. Although perfecting the different tones will take some practice for sure, it doesn’t have to take too long if you are motivated to learn Chinese.

More information about the business Chinese language courses can be found here: https://bcecc.be/business-chinese-language-courses-2/