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Learn Chinese to Be A Better Cleantech Advocate or Investor In 30 Minutes Daily (Part 1)

Almost 1.5 billion people. That’s almost 1 in 5 of all living humans, and that’s BEFORE you count Chinese speakers in countries outside of the People’s Republic. There are over 25 million Chinese speakers in Taiwan and Singapore, and between 40 and 50 million more all over the world. Learning Chinese as a second language makes sense just by those numbers, regardless of any other factors.

Reasons Cleantech Advocates & Investors Should Be Learning Chinese

If you’re a cleantech advocate, investor, or entrepreneur, it makes even more sense. For one, the mainland is absolutely kicking butt on their charging infrastructure buildout, and electric bikes are very popular, too. Taiwan’s electric car adoption doesn’t look great, but when you consider that dirty 2-stroke scooters dominate and they’re being replaced by electric ones, clean transportation is really happening there, too. Singapore is also on an improving trajectory. If you’re in the EV or cleantech business, Chinese-speaking countries are where a good chunk of the action is.

It would be irresponsible to pretend that it’s all rainbows and skittles, though. There are many human rights concerns, weak-to-non-existent democracy, and very limited press freedom in the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and Singapore. Taiwan managed to climb out of that hole in the 80s and 90s, but still has problems and room for improvement, some racism against foreigners, and struggles with diplomatic recognition globally (the PRC demands non-recognition of Taiwan before they’ll have diplomatic relations and give good market access).

No matter your feelings on any of the above, it still makes sense to learn Chinese. We can’t predict the region’s future, but we can look at trends, come up with best- and worst-case scenarios, and prepare accordingly. The best case for the PRC (at least from their perspective) is that they buck historical trends and their authoritarian president-for-life works out for them and they become a dominant (or the dominant) world power. If that happens, the case for learning Chinese needs no further explanation. Clean technology will go where the money is.

The worst case for China is the collapse of their government in coming years, with or without a nasty war first. But if that happens, we can’t expect another “Century of Humiliation.” The 19th century model of imperial exploitation, where they’d kill a country, colonize, and then pick meat from its bones proved unsustainable, and even horrifying when it was tried on Germany after World War I (the country’s desperation is what gave us Hitler). Today’s global economy, while imperfect, would rather make money rebuilding damaged and fallen countries and then benefiting from trade with them (Germany and Japan post-WWII are great examples of this). Thus, even in the worst case there would be lots of cleantech action in China.

Neither the best case or worst case usually happens, but with both extremes showing the value of learning Chinese, the middle is going to be much the same. China is going to succeed no matter what happens with their or our governments. Why? Because Chinese people and Chinese culture are both strong. History and the Chinese diaspora prove this much. They tend to be successful in the long run no matter where they are or who’s running things.

Industry leaders and entrepreneurs (assuming you exercise “China Plus One” caution and don’t become dependent on the market to the point where they control you) definitely need language skills to do their best. Even investors would do better to know the language and not depend on what outward-facing state-run media says to know what’s going on when they’re telling their own people very different things domestically.

OK, I’m Sold On This. Where Do I Start Learning Chinese?

Whatever you do, don’t trust that some smartphone app is going to get you fluent or near-fluent in Chinese all by itself. When experimenting with the popular Duolingo app to brush up on my own rusty Mandarin that I picked up 10-15 years ago, I told my kids to try it out. My daughter was almost in tears when she immediately got lost and didn’t know what the app was even trying to get her to learn.

The problem with most of these language apps is that they focus on rote memorization. Memorization is important, of course, as you need to build vocabulary, but knowing a bunch of words doesn’t mean you know a language. To build language skill, you need a skeleton of basics to put the muscles and organs of vocabulary onto. So, you’ll need to start with some basic concepts and then use apps or flashcards to learn words.

Some Background: Chinese Is Actually A Family Of Languages

Image by U.S. Central Intelligence Agency, Public Domain.

First off, you need to decide what Chinese language you want to learn. The biggest one is Mandarin, but there’s also Cantonese (common in Hong Kong and Southern China), Min (including Hokkien, which is common in Taiwan), Hakka, and many others. In fact, there are hundreds of languages spoken in China. Plus, there are other Sinitic languages all around East Asia, and other regional languages like Japanese, Vietnamese, and Korean are related, and sometimes even use Chinese characters.

If you only want to communicate with people in a limited area of China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan where a non-Mandarin language is more common, you should focus on that language. But, for better or worse, governments pushed Mandarin on Chinese people in the 20th century and it has become a dominant language almost everywhere people speak any Chinese.

So, unless there’s a compelling reason to do otherwise, I’d focus on Mandarin first. It will give you the widest reach. If you’re around other dialects, you’ll end up picking those up anyway. I got to the point where I could have some very basic conversations in Taiwanese Hokkien without even trying.

For these reasons, I’m going to focus on Mandarin for the rest of this guide. If you really want to focus on something else, shoot me a message on Twitter or something and I can probably help you find alternative resources.

In Part 2, I’m going to go through some of the basic skills and concepts you need to start with and where to build vocabulary. In Part 3, I’ll discuss what you need to do after that to make what you’ve learned useful.

Featured image: A Screenshot from Google Translate showing some popular Cleantech terms.

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Written By

Jennifer Sensiba is a long time efficient vehicle enthusiast, writer, and photographer. She grew up around a transmission shop, and has been experimenting with vehicle efficiency since she was 16 and drove a Pontiac Fiero. She likes to get off the beaten path in her "Bolt EAV" and any other EVs she can get behind the wheel or handlebars of with her wife and kids. You can find her on Twitter here, Facebook here, and YouTube here.


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