Talking about the Mandarin Chinese Language

Article in partnership with Day Translations.

When researching which languages to learn for business success and better career options, a number of languages always come up in search results, one of them being Mandarin Chinese.

However, it seems that efforts to integrate Mandarin in schools and Universities’ curricula, particularly in English-speaking countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom, are not being fulfilled for various reasons.

Mandarin as the Language of the Future

According to a 2023 article from The Economist, by 2015 Mandarin had been identified by many sources as the language of the future. From encouraging American students to start learning Mandarin as early as primary school to British students to study it to improve their earning potential, the language was portrayed as a symbol of China’s increasing influence and economic growth on the world stage.

However, as early as 2016 a slowing trend was already emerging in the take up of Chinese language studies, with New Zealand showing the least interest in enrolling in University courses that offered that language, even though this country is an important trading partner for China. Australia, Germany and Northern European countries also showed a lower level of interest into studying Chinese at University.

Interestingly, a language that bucked this trend has been Korean, whose take up at American Universities has been on the rise. With the popularity of Korean drama and Korean music, learners of the Korean language have multiplied in recent years.

There seems to be a disconnect between what employers want, i.e., more candidates who are fluent in Mandarin, and the wishes of University students, who choose which foreign language to study based on their own personal interests. Therefore, while Mandarin is still a language that is in demand on the job market and which can offer more career and earning opportunities, jobs requiring Mandarin are often filled by native speakers over learners of the language.

Generally speaking, economic and political relations between China and Western countries affect how Chinese culture and language are perceived, with periods of higher or lower tension between countries directly influencing public opinion. Looking at the trade relations between China and the US as an example, the total market value of imports and exports between the two countries was $690 billion in 2022 (Statista), up from $536 billion in 2012, with imports from China to the US making the most of the trade value. If we compare this with the situation in New Zealand (source New Zealand Foreign Affairs and Trade), China is the country’s most important trading partner, with a total market value of NZ $38.5 billion in 2022, equivalent to about $22 billion, and an almost equal split between imports and exports.

Jobs Requiring Knowledge of Mandarin Chinese

Looking through job sites, vacancies for roles requiring good knowledge of Mandarin Chinese include various management positions, from consultancy to marketing, through other positions such as games testers, sales advisors, analysts for the banking, insurance and logistics sectors, as well as engineers and project managers.

The Market Is Evolving

Market forces are dictating where we should focus our attention, including which languages are more likely to be useful for work and everyday life. In the meantime, competition from Artificial Intelligence and embedded translators in social media platforms are making learning basic language skills almost obsolete. Here is the crucial point to note: while basic language skills may no longer be required either by employers or to understand simple text on social media sites and other online sites, advanced language skills coupled with an in-depth understanding of cultural context of a language will still be in demand, especially when it comes to making strategic decisions and agreeing on international contracts.