I often encourage my niece with the idea of doing something that scares you everyday - or at least every week. But for me one of the most challenging missions recently has been to present to a group of leading Chinese media people - addressing their questions about digital and broadcast media in the UK and Europe but without a word of Chinese in my head. I learnt how to say hello 你好 and goodbye 再见 but the whole experience reminded me just how little I know about China and how much I need to learn. Which is a good thing to wake up to. I came away from the session feeling slightly bewildered as normally my key communications advice is to know your audience and figure out how to connect with them but in this case it was extremely hard by the end of the session to know what I had communicated or how I had connected. Every word had to be translated and I also realised how much you lose control when your language and conversation has to go through a translation loop. It reminded me how difficult it is to connect without language and the need for those of us on this side of the world to reach out and learn the language of 2 billion people. So full of enthusiasm I did enroll in the local night course in breakthrough Chinese convinced that at least by my next session with the Chinese (and thankfully there will be a second one!) I would know more. I rolled up with my notebook in hand only to be told the numbers were too low to go ahead. Dejected I left. So anyone out there who want to help me learn a little Mandarin Chinese please let me know! In France my friend says her daughters learn it in school in the same way we learn German - not the first language they learn - but the second or third. How many Irish schools are teaching Chinese? How many business courses include Chinese in their modules?
For my part it has started a new learning curve trying to get beyond the assumptions and understand the economy, culture and people, in all their diversity, behind so much of what influences my everyday life and world. ‘Made in China’ may be the most common phrase a child in Ireland learns if they are picking up things around the house - but how much better if we were teaching just a little of that language to get behind that product stamp ?