How do you get around the language barrier with Chinese suppliers?

How do you get around the language barrier with Chinese suppliers? I’m finding making contact very tricky.


Overcoming the language barrier when dealing with Chinese suppliers is one of the biggest challenges you are likely to face when starting an importation business.


My first experiences in China were overwhelming and extremely challenging, but after visiting China on average six to eight times a year for the last five years, at Milan Direct we have come up with some winning strategies that now make doing business in China an absolute pleasure.


The first winning strategy used to overcome the language barrier begins back in Australia at the initial sourcing stage.


We utilise a screening process where we cast our net far and wide by contacting all factories that specialise in the products that we wish to import.


We base our decision on which suppliers to continue negotiations with on how professional they are, which includes how easy their English is to understand.


This may sound harsh, but from experience the more professional a company is in your initial dealings, the better quality product they will provide.


This is only a preliminary consideration, as once a supplier is shortlisted we will fly over to China to continue discussions face to face and to assess in detail whether they can meet our high quality standards.


A second winning strategy we have employed at Milan Direct is to utilise the latest technologies to overcome the language barrier.


My business partner Ruslan Kogan and I a few years back found ourselves locked into some heated negotiations with a group of Chinese suppliers, right in the heart of China.


We found ourselves sitting around a small Chinese tea table, opposite the factory owners and several employees, all speaking to each other in Mandarin, and only pausing to puff away on their cigarettes.


We were desperate to find out what they were saying amongst themselves, so Ruslan with his passion for technology pulled out his Nokia phone, hit audio record and placed the phone on the table.


Once back in our hotel room we uploaded the audio transcript on and within the hour had the audio transcript translated and transcript emailed back to us.


This leveled the playing field in negotiations with this factory and helped to ensure we could create a satisfactory outcome.


It must be understood that China not only has a significant language barrier, but has a different business culture than in Australia, and it takes time and perseverance to find, understand, and negotiate with the best suppliers.


Other winning strategies we have used at Milan Direct to understand the Chinese market include employing the services of interpreters to assist in negotiations when in China, as well as hiring Chinese speaking Australians to assist in importing tasks from our head office in Melbourne.


At the end of the day a little patience goes a long way, and it’s important to remember that if it was easy, everyone would be doing it!


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