It’s Chinese to Me, the PMP®

S. D. Nelson, PMP, and Evelyn Chen

Learning about Chinese languages promotes productive communication with Chinese teams. What are some communication challenges a project manager may encounter? How can learning about Mandarin help?

What is Mandarin?
In China, there are many regional languages such as Shanghai-ese or Cantonese. In order to communicate across regions, they created Mandarin, the people’s language. Mandarin is written with a set of characters called 汉字 (Hanzi). Some characters depict their meaning, for example:

一 (one)   二 (two)  下 (below or under)

Over time, many characters such as 下 took other meanings. 下 also means “next,” as in 下个星期 (next week), or literally, “the week below the current week.”

English and Mandarin Differences
How do communication challenges for multicultural teams differ from working with team members who all speak the same language (or at least share a common alphabet)? Look past language to the basics of communication. In the United States, most of us spell words with letters from an alphabet. Then, we use words to form sentences that convey an idea.

The Chinese do not have an alphabet or words, per se. Chinese speakers say one or two or more Chinese characters to convey an idea. For example:

我         (wo3) myself
去         (qu4…

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"The most incomprehensible thing about the universe is that it is comprehensible."

- Albert Einstein

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