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Communication with foreign businesses


As the domestic Chinese motorcycle industry struggles companies have begun to pay extra attention to building new export markets. As Chinese motorcycle quality improves there is one major problem that needs to be addressed, that of communication with the customer. English is the global business language and it is essential for export clerks at motorcycle enterprises to have a good command of the Queen?s language.

            Over the last few months I have received some worrying emails from international companies wishing to trade with the Chinese industry. Many buyers have complained that there is a distinct problem in communication between themselves and the Chinese rep that they contacted. I think maybe I haven?t identified the problem before because I have lived in China for 9 years and have become accustomed to the English spoken as a second language by the Chinese business people, and resolved to dedicate myself in to research in this area.

            To conduct my experiment I chose 4 of the biggest motorcycle companies in China (who I will not name) and chose to go about contacting them by phone in the same way as a buyer new to the industry presumably would. I first visited the company website and took a note of the contact phone numbers displayed. I was surprised by the person who answered the phone who seemed like he was totally disinterested and answered in Chinese. He did not answer with his company name or a greeting as is normal but with an indifferent ?wei.? I asked him if he spoke English and after some deliberation he decided that he did. I told him that I am David McMullan from China Motor Magazine and wanted to interview someone in the media and publicity department. His first reaction was to tell me in broken English that he did not work for a magazine! I retorted that I was from the magazine and that I wanted to contact the media department to conduct and interview. Now please bear in mind that I am aware that English is a 2nd language for these guys and that my East London (Cockney) accent can sometimes be troublesome to those not used to it (including Americans) and so I affected my best pronunciation and spoke slowly and clearly avoiding long words. His main problem was with the word ?interview? which he deciphered as ?India.? 3 times I repeated the word ?interview? and 3 times he told me that ?yes we sell to India.?

            Another company that I called managed to put me through to the media department where I spoke to a young lady apparently in charge of media releases who didn?t have the first clue what I was talking about! At each company I experienced a level of un-professionalism on answering the phone, and we are talking about huge multinational companies here! Can you imagine calling Yamaha and them answering mushi mushi? They do not. Their answer would be something along the lines of ?Good afternoon Yamaha how may I help you?? I had communication problems with all of the companies that I contacted.

            The point is that if these clerks cannot understand an Englishman that knows how to be understood in China what chance would they have with an international buyer for whom English is a 2nd or 3rd language?

            This is a problem that needs to be addressed if the Chinese motorcycle industry wants to be taken seriously internationally. I feel that one of the main problems is that the employers, directors and owners of the motorcycle companies come from a different generation that didn?t learn English. This means that they employ English speaking clerks on the basis of them having certificates of merit in English without hearing them speak. The certificates in English in China are invariably achieved after written exams and in no way prepare the student for a life in international business. So what is the answer?

            We at ChinaMotor Magazine are dedicated to improve the reputation of the Chinese motorcycle industry internationally and so have devised a plan. I (David McMullan) will conduct a free monthly seminar on business English and western business etiquette for all English speaking staff of Chongqing motorcycle companies (I?m just sorry that I can?t extend this to the rest of China but I?m looking to set up similar programmes in motorcycle centres nationally). All are welcome to come and attend; in fact company bosses should make attendance COMPULSARY if they are serious in their export ambitions. Those interested in attending should write to me at and explain their main difficulties.

            I want to put something straight, I am not saying that all export clerks need to be coached in English and etiquette but I was shocked by my experience in contacting the companies.

Another thing, if you Chinese export clerks want to write your emails in perfect English send them to me and I will proof read them for you before you send them. This is not as much as a pressing matter as the spoken English but it?s nice to send message in pure and clear language.


Anyway this is my rant over. My only hope is that some companies take action and contact me regarding this problem. I am only too happy to help!


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