How important are Chinese language skills as a foreigner in China?

How important are Chinese language skills as a foreigner in China?


Happy New Year to everyone out there:) I’m now back in the office after 2 weeks of travelling through China.
One thing I learned in those two weeks is that a little Chinese can help a lot, especially because a lot of Chinese people aren’t very good or don’t even speak a word in English. Even in cities like Beijing and Shanghai you will sometimes have problems communicating what you want.

When I first arrived in China for my internship the first problem was the communication – because of a delay of my flight I couldn’t get the ferry to Zhuhai. BUT there was no one who could explain the problem – they tried to speak English but I couldn’t understand a word.
Same problem was with the taxi drivers – in general you must be very lucky if you find an English speaking taxi driver in Zhuhai 🙂 During shopping in the underground markets, where you have to bargain for the price it’s even harder – haggling is not easy if both parties don’t speak the same language.

There are a lot more situations where I was lost without any help of the other interns, who already had Chinese classes. Honestly I felt stupid, like a small child that couldn’t do anything without help.

InternChina - Study Chinese Characters
InternChina – Study Chinese Characters

That’s why I decided to start Chinese language classes. I just talked with Morgan, our Office Manager in Zhuhai and the following week my Chinese classes begun. The best is to have a private teacher, 1 to 1 classes – so the teacher can slow down if you need more time  or if you already know a little Chinese you will start at your level.  I took 2 hours twice a week, so every Monday and Friday after work I went to the language school and expanded my language skills. As it is a private teacher you can arrange the time individually which is an advantage, especially when you have a full-time internship.

During my tour through China I was glad to be able to communicate at least a little with the people. Very often it was about ordering food in the restaurant or asking for directions.  There are some basic things you really need to know and then it will be easier for you to live and travel in China.

As a bonus it also looks nice on your CV to have a language like Chinese – even if it is just the very basic. I hope this will help me in my future career, when I have meetings with colleagues from China – as Chinese people are very impressed when you can speak a little Chinese 🙂


If you are interested in Chinese Language classes to start or to improve your language skills, apply now!