China and Your Career

The Rise of China

Last month I did a presentation at Texas State University about China and young professionals’ careers. Gone are the days when the only people whose careers intersected with China were diplomats and manufacturers. My classes for adult students are filled with people who work in tech, medical devices, oil & gas, sourcing, and other industries. They either go to greater China for work or they work closely with Chinese colleagues here in San Antonio. Many students are interested in how greater China might be a part of their career and others realize that the region will be a part of their future based on their career interests. It is just as common to travel to China for work now as Japan was in the 80s.


Since I was talking to undergraduate students, I decided to keep things interesting by talking about real people I know whose careers have had some connection with China. Below are the slides from my presentation a long with some comments. I called these “mini case studies” but they really are just the personal stories of early career professionals who work a little or a lot with China. I’ve changed details in every story except my own to keep people anonymous.

Case studies of Young Professionals and China

my career and China

My adult students always ask me where I learned Chinese. The short answer is China. The slightly longer answer is that I learned through language classes at Chinese universities and immersion in Chinese society. Eventually, I translated my language abilities (heh :)) into a job in marketing at a consulting firm in Shanghai. When it was time for me to come back to the United States, I thought that I would probably stay in the marketing field and that no one would care about my experience in China. I’ve never been more pleased to be wrong. Turns out that my knowledge and skills in Chinese were way more interesting than my experience in marketing. More on how that turned into Lotus Chinese Learning is here.

Borja’s Career


Borja’s career has a lot to do with China because he lives there. He works for one of the world’s largest wine companies and he focuses on expanding their market share in mainland China. China is important to his company because there are almost 50 million wine drinkers in China. For comparison, the entire population of Spain (where Borja is from) is 46 million.

Mr. M’s Career

Mr M

Mr. Miller is based in the Washington D.C. and while he does not go to China anymore he still is involved in the region every day. When I interviewed him for this project  he made an interesting comment about how important it is to have a deep background knowledge of Chinese culture in order to do business there. He said that of course people can get away with just hopping off of a plane and heading into a business meeting. They still might be successful. Spending the time to really learn about the background of Chinese culture will pay off for people looking to be successful doing business in China.

Kirsty’s Career


Like many folks in sourcing, Kirsty travels to China at least twice a year. Sourcing in China is so much more than just the Canton Fair. As factories move farther and farther inland to reduce costs, sourcing managers will have to travel away from the beaten path. A little knowledge of Chinese language and culture goes a long way when you are not in Shanghai or Guangzhou anymore, Toto.

In summary, there are lots of jobs and careers that will take people to China. There are also lots of jobs in which people will find themselves working closely with colleagues who are based in China. I’m sure that there are plenty of professionals who work in China regularly who never dreamed that China would be such a big part of their careers.

Are you an adult who has to travel to greater China? Check out our class options here.

More on traveling in China for business is here.

So You Wanna Study in China

Summer Study in China for Everyone

Many students start out their studies of Mandarin Chinese with the eventual goal of studying in China or Taiwan. Most students will wait until they have at least an intermediate level of Mandarin to study in China or Taiwan, but there are options at all levels**. For students who are still in school/college/university, summer may be an ideal time to study in a Mandarin-speaking environment.

Enroll Directly in a Chinese University

Students can enroll directly in a Chinese university. Some, such as Beijing Language and Culture University, offer summer classes. Although some universities are more prestigious than others, the ranking of the university has little relationship with the quality of the class. Most language classes will follow a similar curriculum. Compared to average tuition in America, tuition in Chinese universities is very inexpensive. Additionally, the costs of renting a room, buying food and buying textbooks will be much lower.

There are some caveats to taking language classes in a Chinese university. Depending on where a student chooses to study, he or she could walk out the doors of the university and not hear any Mandarin at all. Chengdu is a great city in China, but the locals tend to speak their form of Sichuan dialect. This does not create the Mandarin environment that many students are looking for. Second-tier cities in northeast China are the student’s best bet for a balance of cost of living value and a Mandarin-dominant environment. Especially at the lower levels, students might find themselves in an English language environment, not a Chinese one. Even if the other students in the class do not speak English as their first language, it still often becomes the default lingua franca.

Enroll in a Private Language School

Large cities such as Beijing and Shanghai have private language schools, such as the Hutong School or Mandarin House. Tuition is often higher than at Chinese universities, but they often have more flexible schedules. Some even offer special summer courses. A private language school might also be a good option for adult learners who would like to be in a class with other professionals. Unlike classes taught in Chinese universities, the instructors might not have formal qualifications in Chinese as a second language(对外汉语)instruction. As with classes at a Chinese university, it is also easy to end up in a mostly-English environment. This is especially true at the lower levels.

Studying in China for High School Students

While most options for studying in China are for students who are at the university level and up, there are some options for younger students who want to study Chinese in China. The Mandarin Immersion Parents Council has a list of summer camps in China here. Even elementary students can study in China. Austin-based Chinese with Meggie runs a two-week summer camp in Beijing that includes both American students and Chinese students. (Disclosure: I used to work for Chinese with Meggie). There are also summer camps in Taiwan for kids. For a look at what it is like to spend part of the summer in Taiwan and directly enroll young kids in both international schools and local summer camp, check out the Mandarin Mama blog.

With all these programs for younger children, a major caveat is that they can be expensive. The supervision that minors require means extra costs for parents. Ancillary costs, such as flights to China/Taiwan for an adult to drop off the students also make the bills higher.

There is Always Backpacking

As discussed in this post, China can be a difficult place to travel for a tourist who does not know the language. But for students with a few semesters of study under their belts. A trip to China can really motivate them to reach the next level. It is also easier to truly be immersed in a Chinese-language environment as a solo traveler. Depending on how good a person is at budgeting, the costs of just traveling around China for a month might be similar to enrolling in a short-term course at a university.

As of this writing (July 2018), there are many options for the foreign student who wants to study in China. They can take language classes at Chinese universities, private language schools or they can just travel around and do their best self-study on the road. More exposure to the language should have great benefits. To truly reach advanced levels of Mandarin Chinese, however, students need to learn content in the language. This is because we don’t learn language by memorizing vocabulary lists or reading about grammar. The human brain is designed to connect language with meaning. If students do not care about the meaning of the target language, they won’t learn. Students in China should work towards taking a Chinese-language calligraphy class, history class, TCM class, etc. This is the type of learning that will really lead to deep language acquisition.

photo of library at Zhejiang University
You Could Be Studying Mandarin Chinese Here!


Did you study in China or Taiwan? What was your experience? Share in the comments!

**Any mention of a specific school in this post is just that, a mention. It is not an endorsement of the school.

How Much Mandarin Do You Really Need to Travel in China?

photo of Jade Girl Peak at Wuyi Mountain (Wuyi Shan)
Go to China and see the Jade Girl Peak in person! (But learn some Mandarin first)

So you want to travel in China…

Many adult students seek out Mandarin Chinese classes in preparation for a trip to China. Lots of American tourists would take a trip to Mexico or France without brushing up on Spanish or French. Many travelers, whether they are going for business or pleasure, however, feel that it is necessary to learn some Mandarin for China. Despite the fact that many people in China spend years learning English, knowing Mandarin is very useful for travel in China.

Leaving Shanghai and Beijing

Outside of Beijing and Shanghai, travel in China can be very difficult. Sichuan Province recently made the list of Lonely Planet’s top destinations in Asia. The capital of Sichuan, Chengdu, is a fast-growing city, but it does not nearly have the infrastructure of Shanghai or Beijing. Knowing the language (at least a little) can make it so much easier to travel in places like Sichuan.

Ordering Food

A good reason to learn a few Chinese characters before traveling to China is ordering food. Big restaurants in Shanghai and Beijing have English menus and/or picture menus. If a traveler goes off the beaten path, Anthony Bourdain-style, knowing Chinese characters will help when looking at menus. Even knowing the characters for beef (牛肉) and pork (猪肉) is useful. Going to hole-in-wall restaurants is also easier on the budget.

photo of crab dumplings
Crab dumplings? It is easier to order these if you know some Mandarin

Get off the Beaten Path (there will still be loads of Chinese tourists)

One of the best things to do in China is to climb a scenic mountain, such as Yellow Mountain (Huang Shan) or Wuyi Mountain (Wuyi Shan). Places like these require some navigation and that is where knowing Mandarin comes in handy. With a beginner or intermediate level of Mandarin, a tourist will not have elaborate conversations in rural China. They will, however, be able to more easily give directions to taxi drivers, find out room rates and order food.

view at Yellow Mountain (Huangshan)
Getting to see this view is a lot is easier with some Mandarin knowledge

It is not impossible to travel all over China without knowing any Mandarin. It just makes life more difficult (and expensive). One of the joys that knowing the language opens up is getting to know people. An article in Bon Appetit suggests going to the same restaurant more than once while traveling, just to get to know some locals. They are onto something. Eventually all the food, mountain vistas and train rides blur together when traveling. But the people remain distinct if you get to know them.


Headed to China? Learn some Chinese before you go! Get in touch via the contact page. Skype classes available.

Mandarin Chinese for Travel

photo of pagodas at Guilin
Knowing some Chinese can really enrich a trip to China or Taiwan

Can you Cram in a Mandarin Class Before your Trip?

Travel season is getting underway. Many adult students want to learn Mandarin Chinese because they want to travel to China or Taiwan. Normally, a class for a future traveller is the same as a class for anyone else. Students need lots of comprehensible input and repetition to learn Mandarin. If a student just wants to learn Mandarin Chinese for travel, however, they often do not have a lot of time to study. If that is the case, I do have some suggestions what students should study.

Invest your Time in Getting Pronunciation Right

A big source of misunderstanding in China comes from pronunciation. If you are traveling in China, learn the correct pronunciation of the places you will visit. Locals really do have a hard time understanding foreign tourists who cannot pronounce the place that they want to go. James Fallows has a series of blog posts about the pronunciation of “Beijing.” Remember, it is “jing” as in “jingle” not “zhing” as in something vaguely French-sounding.

While brushing up on the pronunciation of your destinations, work on your pinyin. If a travelers uses a phrasebook to get around, knowing how to pronounce the pinyin will only help. Similarly, the phrase book is less useful if no one can understand what you are saying. Normally, I suggest that students learn Mandarin Chinese pronunciation as part of a holistic process. If the student is just looking to use a phrase book better, then this is a good video to learn how to pronounce pinyin. Most common Chinese phrasebooks use pinyin.

Yes, You Should Learn Some Chinese Characters

Fortunately for the foreigner, most signs in China use pinyin. Signs in Taiwan also have Romanization. Thanks to the delightfully cantankerous blog I know that the type of Romanization used in Taiwan is somewhat inconsistent, but it does exist. Despite the fact that people who do not read Chinese characters can get around in China and Taiwan, it is still important to learn some characters.

If  you will travel in rural places in China, learn 女 (female) and 男 (male). These characters might be the only label on a bathroom and you will want to get that right! In the big cities, and the smaller ones too, menus often have pictures. But just in case, I recommend that travelers learn a few Chinese characters for different foods. This is especially useful if you have foods that you want to avoid. Learning the character for pork (猪肉) can help a traveler avoid foods with pork.

Keep Learning (Even After You Get Back)

There is no substitute for a long-term class for language learning. It is impossible to skip steps in true language acquisition. However, I hope that these tips help a future traveler to China if he or she only has a little bit of time to prepare.

If you would like to learn Mandarin Chinese for travel or any other reason, please contact us.

Why Should You (or Your Child) Study Mandarin Chinese?

Usually on the blog, I stay away from questions like this one. For students and parents reading the website, I assume that there is already an interest in learning Mandarin Chinese. I usually focus on the how of learning Mandarin Chinese here, not on the why. But something happened this week that demonstrated just how much Chinese society is changing every day.

Today (March 22, 2018) is the Big Give in San Antonio. As part of the Big Give, I am fundraising for a local non-profit, Restore Education. Almost on a whim, I posted my fundraising page to the social media platform WeChat. WeChat is by far the most popular and comprehensive social media platform in Mainland China and I use it to keep in touch with friends in China and all over the world. Within minutes, I got a message from my friend Daniel in China. Daniel is middle-aged, works for the local government and is looking forward to when his son gets married in the near future. We have known each other for over a decade. Daniel asked me a little bit about the non-profit, I told him that they improve educational outcomes for at-risk people. A few minutes after that, Daniel sent me a donation in WeChat (the ability to send money within the app is one of the many wonders of WeChat).

In America, charitable giving is a big part of our culture. The majority of financial support (72%) for American non-profits comes from individuals. About 2% of our GDP goes to charity, in China, however, that number is .1%. When I was living in China, and fundraising for non-profits there, many of my Chinese friends and colleagues were skeptical about charitable giving. They usually expected the government to take care of social problems. It was surprising to me, since I have been living in the US for several years now, to get a donation so quickly. The number of donations from top philanthropists in China tripled from 2010-2016 and I think that that trend is reaching Chinese people who are not billionaires.

Twenty or thirty years ago, China was just the country that manufactured lots of stuff to most Americans. Now China is on the cover of the Economist almost every week. Its citizens are even sending donations to American charities! As the society changes, I believe that it is worth it to get to know the people more. Learning the language is an important step in that direction, so learn Mandarin Chinese!

In case you’re interested, my fundraising page for Restore Education is here. 谢谢!

A donation all the way from China for the Big Give San Antonio