China is embracing motorsport, how is your Mandarin?

One of the interesting things I learnt from the World Motorsport Symposium (WMS) last year was about the growth of motorsport in China. It should come as no real surprise as this is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with a relatively new middle class consumer demographic; with money to spend on leisure activities like motorsport.

As I write this blog post our Prime Minister Theresa May is visiting China on a trade visit, accompanied by McLaren COO Jens Ludmann. This UK company is one of the many in the automotive and motorsport industries that see China as an important market: it’s the world’s biggest new car market, accounting for almost a third of global annual sales.

At the WMS there was much talk about new motorsport events hosted on Chinese soil. In fact the Chinese government is behind this boom, calling for the “continuous improvement in the organisation of motorsports” and new racing circuits to be created to provide venues for more homegrown events.

In the last two decades there have been notable additions to the global motorsport calendar including the Chinese Grand Prix in Shanghai (launched in 2004) – now firmly established on the international circuit – and the Silk Way Rally a Russian / Chinese event that plans to rival the Dakar Rally.

The Chinese aren’t just spectators either. Young drivers are coming up through the ranks, such as champion rally driver, Han Han, who is also China’s most popular blogger. He started off as a teenager racing around a Shanghai karting track, entering professional racing in 2003 with the Beijing Extreme Speed Racing Team, and won his first championship in the China Circuit Championship in 2007.

Unlike older drivers, Han Han and other Chinese racing drivers of his generation and younger started their training early on China’s new karting circuits. Prior to that motorsport was in its infancy, without the facilities China boasts today, and drivers typically entered the sport as adults at a disadvantage to other international drivers.

For international motorsport companies and organisations, suppliers and service providers, China and Chinese is increasingly part of global strategies. Naturally, communicating in Chinese is an important part of this.

Communicating in the Chinese motorsport industry

Mandarin has long been identified as an important language for global businesses, governments and other organisations. However, in the UK it is not widely taught in schools (Spanish, French and German are still the dominant languages for secondary education) and therefore not many people even have the basics.

Admittedly, Mandarin is a difficult language to learn. It’s tonal with many sounds that aren’t used in European languages, and very different grammatical systems. For this reason it generally takes a lot longer to learn than other languages that are more closely related to English, and that requires some commitment!

However, for any company or organisation that wants to form ties with China, whether that’s working with Chinese motorsports companies, participating in Chinese motorsports events and building fan bases and brand image, it is essential to have the right language skills.

English is not widely spoken in China either. Fewer than one in 100 Chinese residents speak English, so it is really important to have a communications strategy, and support, before jumping on a flight to Beijing! I recommend the following:

  1. Check that Mandarin is spoken – this is the most widely spoken language in China, but Cantonese is the first language for some people. According to the Ministry of Education, 400 million people in China don’t speak Mandarin.
  2. Ensure that you – and any employees visiting China or communicating with Chinese contacts – have some basic words in Mandarin (or Cantonese if appropriate) to enable them to express a few pleasantries, greetings etc.
  3. Work with interpreters with automotive or motorsport experience. It is important to use professional interpreters who understand the concepts and terminology used by all parties so there is no misunderstanding or confusion.
  4. Consider what printed materials you might need. These may range from business cards to technical information or marketing content. Get these essential assets translated by a translation partner with automotive translation
  5. Translate digital content if appropriate. Websites and social media profiles can help your company engage with fans, sponsors and key stakeholders. Localised versions of your existing digital profiles and website can be created to support your objectives in China, or consider developing a microsite for Chinese audiences to promote your company.

Comtec has enjoyed a long relationship with many UK motorsport and automotive organisations, partnering with our clients to help them reach new markets and audiences including those in China. I would be delighted to discuss how we can support your organisation, and provide more insight into our automotive translation services.

Please get in touch if you would like an informal chat or to arrange a meeting. Call +44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email

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