Shanghai preview



China is improving in its attempt to teach English at all educational levels, but there’s still a lot of work to be done. In business, many companies do have somebody who speaks English, but it’s still usual to arrive to a factory where everybody, from the workers to the general manager, speak only Mandarin. Never take it for granted that English will be spoken; before any meeting try to find out if somebody really speaks English and remember that Chinese are reluctant to admit that they can’t do a task. In case of doubt, take a translator with you.

That said, the common language for cross-cultural business in China is English. When Chinese managers conduct business with counterparts from Japan, Germany, Saudi Arabia, or Indonesia, the business language is English. When the Chinese deal with other Chinese from different provinces, then Mandarin Chinese is used. The languages common to Guangdong province or Shanghai or Sichuan province are too different from each other to be used nationwide. Therefore, Mandarin Chinese allows them to converse and to do business.


It is difficult to say whether one can get by on English alone because, in Shanghai, the answer to this depends on the individual, his tastes, the places he likes to visit, and the means of travel he chooses. For example, an expat who spends all his time in up-market areas like the French Concession and Xintiandi,…