The small number of Australians proficient in Mandarin represents a huge disadvantage to Australian companies seeking to do business in China, according to a leading architecture firm.
CPA Australia has warned there are only 300 Australian students learning Chinese in year 12 across the country who are not native speakers.
John Bilmont, principal director of PTW Architects, calls this a “looming lost opportunity”.
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“There is a real gap here as Australian schools typically offer European languages rather than Asian options, which is curious because Australia is firmly rooted in Asia,” he says.
PTW Architects has offices in Shanghai and Beijing, and encounters language issues from time to time.
“The vast bulk of our language skill needs are directly related to our business requirements in China and involve teams of PTW staff and associated professionals working together.
“The main language issue we face is when we have technical manuals and the like, which are themselves vaguely expressed and need to be ‘understood’ as well as interpreted into English,” he says.
But he told SmartCompany that PTW Architects tries to employ multi-lingual staff to combat the language problem.
“The lost opportunities extend beyond business interests and include the lost understanding and appreciation of the social, cultural and artistic qualities of China and other Asian nations,” he says.
China is Australia’s biggest trading partner and with Chinese emerging as a global language of business, Bilmont says it’s time the education sector made some changes.
“In my opinion, our education system would benefit from including Chinese and other Asian languages in the core curriculum subjects,” he says.