3 Intangible Benefits American CEOs Can Obtain By Learning Chinese

Wendy Huang, CEO of the China Success Institute

3 Intangible Benefits American CEOs Can Obtain By Learning Chinese

Taking the time and energy to learn a Chinese dialect can be difficult and intimidating for even the most seasoned and cultured CEO. Furthermore, given English’s status as the primary business language of the world, many American CEO’s don’t see why they shouldn’t just leave the speaking of Chinese to the trained professional translators. However, even a remedial understanding and comprehension of a Chinese dialect delivers many intangible benefits that can provide any CEO with a lasting competitive advantage in the Chinese, Asian and broader international business markets.

Networking Within the Chinese Business Community Requires An Understanding of Both Language and Culture

One of the first Chinese words that a Western businessperson should learn and understand is the concept of guanxi, which is pronounced (gwan-shee). Guanxi has no direct translation in the English language, but it essentially refers to the complex concept of “networking”, and encompasses the idea of building business connections through an “If I scratch your back, you scratch my back” philosophy. When conducting business in China as an American CEO, having a language translator is great, and often necessary for successful and effective formal business communications and negotiations. In fact given that English is regarded as the primary language of international business, some assume that Asian expectations regarding the speaking of Mandarin and other dialects are extremely low for Western business leaders.

However, in China there is also a more informal aspect of business networking that more closely focuses on the intangible aspect of building connections, respect and understanding of one’s business counterparts. The intangible aspects of building guanxi is often lost on Western businesspeople, who typically are more driven by the bottom-line and more tangible aspects of business. However, at the end of a long day of formal contract negotiations, the ability to simply say hello and goodbye to one’s Chinese business counterparts in the other person’s language can be the first step in building lasting guanxi, with Chinese business people.

Learning an Additional Language Creates a Global Perspective

Those who come from monoglot nations, ie. where only one language is spoken, often feel that they are subject to a language barrier, and a resulting disadvantage when it comes to participating in the global economy. However, it is extremely possible for an American to cultivate a global perspective, which can open the doors to additional business opportunities, as well as a more expansive way at looking at and engaging with international markets. In fact, though English is considered the prevailing worldwide business language, learning Mandarin can jumpstart one’s career into the international sphere, while also delivering an enhanced understanding of the Chinese culture.

Using A Translator Isn’t Always Enough

Most Western businesspeople are very interested in expanding their communication skills in order to access new and exciting opportunities in the Asian markets. However, many don’t feel that they have enough time to focus on learning a new language, instead preferring to focus on the bigger picture, and choose to rely on translators in negotiations and communications with their Chinese business counterparts. However, simply taking a remedial Chinese language class can come with great benefits in terms of laying the groundwork for understanding Chinese culture, and the nuances of communication and language. Ultimately, the degree of confidence that comes with having even a basic understanding can contribute to an international businessperson’s overall success in the Asian market.


While Western CEO’s are often driven by the bottom-line and other more tangible concerns, taking the time to learn a Chinese dialect provides lasting intangible benefits when it comes to participating in the international business community. In addition to being a great aid in the building of lasting business connections in China, learning a Chinese dialect such as Mandarin, can provide an American CEO with a more expansive cultural understanding of the broader Asian business culture.

About the Author

Wendy Huang, CEO of the China Success Institute, was born and raised in China and graduated from Northwestern University. Nicknamed, “The China Success Coach”, Ms. Huang coaches executives and professionals for success in Chinese language and culture. She is the author of the upcoming book series, Hot Trends in China 2016, an annual summary of China's fastest-growing consumer and business trends.