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Nov 17

Doing Business in a Chinese Way – New edition of Business Chinese: 20 Essential Topics

By  Sophie Guo

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Teaching business Chinese can be daunting: you have to be equipped with the knowledge of business, and you have to teach the language at the same time, just like other language tutors. Harmer (2007)[i] suggests five roles of teachers: controller, prompter, participant, resource and tutor. I would add a sixth role for teachers of business Chinese: A learner: they spend so much time learning the specialised knowledge about business when preparing for the classes, and in class they are still prepared to learn from their students who often know more about business than themselves.

Learning business Chinese is not easy either. Being business professionals and often succeed in their own careers, business Chinese learners often hold higher expectations of what they will learn in the class. However with little or even no knowledge about Chinese language culture, it can be difficult to imagine how to establish business relations with a Chinese company.


What can help these teachers and learners?

There is a Chinese saying from Analects of Confucius: “工欲善其事, 必先利其器” (Gōng yù shàn qí shì, bì xiān lì qí qì). It means that “Getting a useful tool ready is the prerequisite for doing one’s job well”. A well-designed textbook can present essential and sufficient topics for teachers, saving their preparation time and efforts. It can provide invaluable support to teachers and learners with detailed and concise explanation, and a clearly illustrated context for putting the target language into use. A good textbook can turn the business class from a monologue of teachers to a mutual development between teachers and students.

I would like to recommend a textbook of this kind: Business Chinese: 20 Essential Topics (second edition). The most significant feature of this book is its selection of the 20 topics: when I read the contents page, it was like reading an introduction of the chocolates on the back of a chocolate box. I kept finding topics that I really want to know about and the students of business Chinese would love to learn:

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  • For example, there are topics about recruiting new staff and arranging staff training, which are very useful for people working in human resources management: Lesson 11.
  • Learners who are interested in doing sales and marketing jobs would like these topics: Lesson 16 – 20.
  • There are also practical topics about attending a company party and hosting a dinner banquet: Lesson 6 – 10.


Topics are the key of a language textbook, because they constitute a framework for teachers to design their course. Topics are also what learners first look at when browsing a textbook. A good selection of topics boosts the confidence level of learners and improves their motivation of learning.

Apart from linguistic and business knowledge, culture difference is one of the major factors influencing the performance of business Chinese students. Business Chinese: 20 Essential Topics (second edition) introduces a number of cultural tips after each lesson, helping learners to apply their knowledge into the Chinese context in the most appropriate way.

For example, how to choose a gift for your business partner in China (or maybe for his/her children?)

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Or should you be worried when hearing the representatives of a Chinese company saying ‘..we are working hard to make our product even better…’?

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If you are unsure about the code of etiquette in the Chinese business context, this book will teach you how to do business in the Chinese way.

The last part I like most about this book is its user-friendly design. It includes Pinyin (Romanization of Chinese characters), English translation, and simplified Chinese characters throughout the book. For business Chinese learners, this book provides them a framework by which they can keep learning in and after a class. Chinese-English and English-Chinese glossaries give them possibility to preview and review the lessons whenever they want.

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Teaching and learning business Chinese can be challenging, but now, I hope you have found a way to enjoy it.


[i] Harmer, J. (2007), The Practice of English Language Teaching. Harlow: Pearson Education Ltd.


Written by Sophie Guo

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Sophie Guo (Chengqian Guo) is a Ph.D graduand from the University of Sheffield. She has many years experience of teaching Mandarin Chinese in Higher Education sectors in both China and the UK. She was also an editor, translator and event organiser. Her research interests involve: the development and evaluation of teaching materials for teaching Chinese, and pedagogy for teaching Chinese as a foreign language.

Publication and conference papers:

  • Guo, C. (2015) The Roles of Textbooks in the TCFL Classrooms of UK – From the Views of Teachers. The Fourth Symposium on the Supervision of Research Students (SSRS) in Teaching Chinese as a Second Language (TCSL), University of Leeds, UK, 18-20, Aug 2015.
  • Guo, C. (2011) An examination of the relationship between language of instruction and student language background in the TCFL classroom.In D. Huang and M. Xing (eds.) Applied Chinese Language Studies III: Innovations in Teaching and Learning Chinese as a Foreign Language. Sinolingua: London. 288-294.

Translation work:

  • Shuo, Y. (2014)Universal Dream, National Dreams and Symbiotic Dream: Reflections on Transcultural Generativity in China-Europe Encounters (I/II).Journal of China in Comparative Perspective, 1 (1) January, 2014, 57-79.

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