Are your chances of finding a Chinese partner for your projects better if you learn Chinese? Before you invest in expensive tutors or courses – consider the pros and cons.

Student learning Chinese with books, pencils, clock, reading glasses and an apple in front of chalkboard with Mandarin text.

The article “Best Ways to Learn Chinese” said that “The U.S. State Department’s Foreign Service Institute rates Mandarin a ‘Category III’ language, meaning it is one of the most difficult languages to learn for a native English speaker”.  The article reported that Mandarin competence takes 2,200 class hours. Spanish by contrast only takes 600 hours.

Speaking and reading Chinese are very different. Mandarin has over 50,000 Chinese characters. Unlike our alphabet – they have no phonetic principle. To achieve literacy – foreigners need to memorize about 2,000 characters. Speaking Mandarin – even without learning to read Chinese is no walk in the park either. Mandarin is tonal. So, each syllable could have four different tones. For example:  请问  Qǐngwèn means ‘excuse me’ or ‘may I ask?   Spoken with a different tone – it becomes 请吻  Qǐng wěn – meaning – ‘please kiss’.


Studio Portrait Of Chinese Businessman Reaching Out To Shake Hands

But say you want an edge over your Hollywood competition.  Now learning Mandarin won’t automatically open doors in China.  However, the article “Hollywood Executives Flock to School to Learn Chinese for Business Opportunities” pointed out a key benefit. Peter Shiao, CEO of Asian-American production and finance company – Orb Media – was quoted saying “It goes a long way to be able to string a few words together. It lets your prospective partners know that you’re committed.”

Here’s a list of pros:

  1. Lets your Chinese partners know you’re committed.
  2. Allows you to gain access to Chinese online spaces.
  3. Puts you at the front of the line for Chinese investors.
  4. Will be necessary if you do an extended stint in China.

If you’re willing to make that commitment – where do you start? Here are some options:

Rosetta Stone

Foreign Service Institute

Chinese Language Academy of Los Angeles

North American Chinese Education Center 

But before you spend all that time and energy – let’s look at both sides of the argument. Here’s why you shouldn’t learn Mandarin.


Young Asian student showing US national flag and looking sidewaysFurthermore, an article “Learning Chinese: Will You Make More Money?”  it said “American businessmen will all eventually need to speak Chinese to communicate with their corporate overlords are probably as overblown as 1980s concerns about the need to learn Japanese, back when Japan Inc. seemed ready to mount a hostile takeover of the world economy.” The article emphasized that Chinese companies believe (mainland Chinese) executives with (Chinese) cultural compatibility may be more important than international experience.

In the article “Mandarin? No, Thanks”  it stated that compared to Mandarin, English is easy to learn for the foreign learner. “This is one of the main reasons (along with British knack for conquering) that it is the current global lingua franca.”

So, what’s the solution?

Businessman finding the solution of a mazeThat same article said “Seen from a purely objective economic viewpoint – it’s more efficient to have a native Mandarin speaker learn English than vice-versa.”  The article later said that governments are better off investing in engineering, science and technology as opposed to “a language that makes virtually no distinction between the phrase ‘you flatter me’ and ‘fruit paste’.”

So, if you are looking for a Chinese to add to your team – see my previous post.

Additionally, in the article, “10 reasons to Not Study Chinese”  the author points out that “Unlike, say, Spanish, which is predominate in 23 countries or French which is dominate in 39 different countries – Chinese is a primary language in four (Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Macau) and they’re all clustered around, well, China.”

And here’s a list of cons:

  1. Too much work – better to teach a native Chinese speaker to learn English.
  2. Business meetings are conducted in English.
  3. Chinese has two writing systems – simplified characters (used in Mainland China) and complex characters (used in Hong Kong and Taiwan).  They are extremely different. Spending years learning to comprehend one doesn’t mean you can understand the other.
  4. Speaking English is a huge asset in China.
Meeting the Chinese halfway (sort of)

halfway word on computer pc keyboard keyInstead of spending years learning Chinese, you can learn some key filmmaking terms and just learn a few simple phrases. Here are two key phrases that will 1. Save your life and 2. Win the deal.


To your breakneck crazy Chinese taxi driver: “If I have a heart attack – please take me to the nearest American hospital.”


Rúguǒ wǒ de xīnzàng bìng fāzuò, qǐng dài wǒ qù zuìjìn dì měiguó yīyuàn.


My scripts have attracted Chinese stars, my budgets are low and if we work together – we’ll all get rich.


Wǒ de jùběn yǐjīng yǒu míngxīng gǎn xìngqù, wǒ de yùsuàn bù gāo. Rúguǒ wǒmen yīqǐ hézuò, wǒmen dōu kěyǐ cóngzhōng huò yì.

Good luck.


Zhù nǐ hǎo yùn.

1 Comment
  • Pingback:3 WAYS TO LOWER STAR SALARIES - The China-Hollywood Greenlight
    Posted at 22:00h, 26 April Reply

    […] Any Chinese actor with ambition to cross borders should learn English. Chinese films don’t travel. And with China’s crack down on salaries, the U.S. looks a lot more attractive right now.  See the related blog Should You Learn Chinese. […]

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