Languages for the future – Mandarin

Mandarin (Putonghua) is one of our most popular languages for translation services. In part this is because of the volume of cross border trade between the UK and China, with businesses exporting to China requiring translations into Chinese, and companies that import goods from China often requiring translations from Chinese to English. As well as this we also have high demand for interpreting services, to ensure that all parties understand each other.

Prime Minster Theresa May’s recent trade visit to China shows just how important our relationship with this economic powerhouse is, and why so many UK companies need translations into Mandarin.

Another key reason that Chinese (particularly Mandarin) is popular is because it’s not commonly learned here in the UK. While there’s been an increase in the number of state secondary schools offering Mandarin on the curriculum – 13%, up from 7-8% in 2005, it is still one of the lesser taught languages in schools. As a result not many people within businesses and organisations are fluent in Mandarin, which means translation partners are essential for Anglo Chinese communications.

Incidentally Mandarin is offered in 46% of independent schools, suggesting that this sector has a better understanding of the importance of this language for the UK, now and in the future.

This is backed up by the British Council’s Languages for the Future updated report, which ranks Mandarin as the second most important language for the UK. Mandarin has gained in importance since the report was first published in 2013; then it was in fourth place below Arabic and French.

The British Council’s report sets out to understand what languages are important for UK government, businesses, organisations and individuals to succeed in a global market. Against the backdrop of Brexit language skills have assumed a new level of importance, as our current overreliance on English for international communication is likely to be tested when the UK is no longer a major EU player.

Why do businesses need Mandarin

As the world’s second largest economy, China is an important market for the UK. Currently it’s the UK’s sixth largest non-English speaking export market, with a value of nearly £17 billion in 2015. According to a CBI report, the number of companies citing Mandarin as important to business has risen from 25% in 2012 to 36% in 2017.

The UK is also the top European investor in China and similarly receives high levels of inward investment; in 2016 $18 billion of Chinese non-financial investment benefited a wide range of sectors in the UK. This included investment in infrastructure and equipment manufacturing, hi-tech, new energy and financial services. The Confederation of British Industry values British direct investment in China at $5.24 billion.

China has also become a large consumer market in the last three decades, and while growth has slowed in recent years there is a burgeoning Chinese upper-middle class with money to spend on consumer goods and entertainment. UK companies have seen demand for branded luxury goods, baby products and ‘British’ goods that are highly aspirational in this market. However, there is also increased demand for services and some analysts predict that in the next few years services will overtake goods as the main driver fuelling China’s consumer boom.

The Boston Consulting Group and AliResearch (the research arm of Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company) forecast that through 2020 81% of consumption growth will come from households whose annual income is more than $24,000; consumers 35 or under will account for 65% of growth; and e-commerce will drive 42% of total consumption growth, 90% of that coming from mobile e-commerce.

For those businesses that still believe that English is the ‘language of business’, China doesn’t agree! Less than one in a hundred Chinese nationals speak English, whereas Mandarin is ranked first in the world with nearly 900 million speakers, mostly in China.

Mandarin is also spoken in Taiwan and Singapore, and is an official language of the United Nations and the International Criminal Court. However, Mandarin is not the only language spoken in China. Cantonese is also spoken in some areas, and many Cantonese speakers do not speak Mandarin). Therefore it is important that if your business is looking to trade with China you understand exactly what your language requirements are.

There are also many cultural differences between the UK and China, which will affect communications (business etiquette etc.) and marketing. Partnering with a language provider who has specific experience working in your sector in China is a very effective way of ensuring you get it right.

Communicating with Chinese nationals in the UK

Another factor for UK business is tourism. More affluent and younger Chinese consumers are also more mobile and keen to travel. Out of the 250,000 Chinese tourists visiting the UK in 2016 (and spending over £0.5 billion) were aged between 16-34 years old in 2016.

Significant numbers of international students are also coming to the UK from China. The number of Chinese students far exceeds any other nationality at 91,215. Therefore in tourism, higher education and other sectors there are opportunities to engage with Chinese consumers in the UK, and language skills are an important aspect of attracting and communicating with this market.

If you’re interested in Chinese you may also like to read this blog post on the differences between Simplified Chinese and Traditional Chinese. This article will help you understand what character set is most appropriate for translation purposes, and to enable your business to communicate effectively with your target audience.

To discuss your organisation’s language priorities and how we can support your global objectives, please contact our team on +44 (0) 1926 335 681 or email us at For a quick quote, click the button in the sidebar ->

Pin It on Pinterest