The Trouble With Being English

Ok – part irish as well. But the problem is too many people in the world speak English. So we English find a low motivation to speak foreign languages. And yet when I travel around, of course many people speak English in business. But a lot do not.

Anyhow, I thought I would learn Mandarin. I was on holiday in the summer, or ‘holiday’ as we CEOs call it, and I knew we had an event coming up in China in December. So I bought a book of VERY basic Mandarin to get a feel as to whether it was hard or not. It seemed doable because they have a western style alphabet as well as the pictographs. There are some sounds that we do not have in English, but once you get those down, you can move forward.

So I had a lesson each two weeks for the last ten weeks, and on all my many trips I took some stuff to learn on the plane. And in the three weeks leading up to the China event I will have done 15 hours of lessons: some daytime, some evening, some weekend. It is an extra stress I preferred not to have, but it seemed like a good idea at the time…

Now I do have one complaint about the Mandarin language. Why does there have to be lots of ‘measure’ words? So you want to say ‘five books’ you have to say ‘five (measure word) books. You want five cups of water its ‘five (different measure word) cups of water. And if you want to say five people its ‘five (yet another different measure word) people’ and it’s really really difficult.

I don’t know if that made sense but believe me it also makes no sense when you are learning Mandarin, either. Still, it’s better than 16 different cases for the word ‘the’ in German or masculine and feminine nouns in many European languages.

Anyhow, so now I’m going to do a 17 minute presentation in Mandarin next week. Not sure if my Chinese colleagues are confident in me…and as for our Mandarin speakers I spoke to in the canteen in Mississauga a few weeks back… well, let’s hope I got better since. I’ll let you know how it goes….

John Conoley joined Psion in 2008 and has 25 years experience in the technology industry. John has significant experience of working with both direct channels to market and also channel partners such as Value Added Resellers (VARs), Distributors, Systems Integrators and Developers. Before joining Psion, John was head of energy company EON’s Corporate Business Division, responsible for improving the performance and profitability of a division with sales of £1.5bn. Prior to this, John spent many years growing or turning round technology businesses as CEO.