Chinese language trainers are often asked by potential students if they can skip the beginner course in General Mandarin and dive headlong into Business Mandarin. The former are obliged to point out that beginners without any basics in Chinese who embark on Business Mandarin are akin to new driving students without basic driving skills who start off their lessons on the main roads. Business Mandarin is a complex and sophisticated conduit that deals with ways of expression, tones and register which aren’t frequently used in the general Chinese vernacular. Many expressions which are acceptable in general communication in Chinese are considered too informal, and even unlearned, in the world of business. Often, more nuanced expressions are necessary to achieve a suitable register and tone for business dealings.
As doing business in the Chinese world isn’t always as direct as in the West, Business Mandarin often has to employ persuasion techniques which involve euphemisms, idioms, rhetorical devices, hedging and others. Business Mandarin is replete with cultural and linguistic intricacies that only more advanced Mandarin learners can navigate. Beginners in Mandarin will find difficulties in understanding even basic Business Mandarin. Furthermore, Business Mandarin doesn’t allow beginners to guess business-specific vocabulary easily because the Chinese language is pictographic. Whereas languages using the Roman alphabet often contain English-derived business words which are quickly recognisable, there’s no such advantage in Chinese. Even sinicised English expressions offer faint clues to their meaning for beginners. In addition, Chinese is full of homophones – words that sound identical but have different meanings. As a result, rushing into Business Mandarin without elementary Chinese will expose students to potentially embarrassing situations in business interactions. In view of the above, it will be extremely demanding and even unproductive for beginners without a foundation in Mandarin to leapfrog into Business Mandarin. It is crucial for them to first lay hold of the basics by embarking on a course in elementary General Mandarin to help them transit more smoothly into Business Mandarin. Although Mandarin has taken a more globalised tone in recent times, the fundamentals of the Chinese language haven’t changed in five millennia; It is imperative for students to grasp its complexities right at the start to have solid footing in future business endeavours.