Sep 15, 2012

A Singaporean in Shanghai

I remember a HR article about how men and women look for joba. On average, a man will apply for the job, if he feels able to at least 30% of the job specifications. However, a woman will apply, only if she feels able to meet at least 70% of the job specs.

I am more like the average woman. When I look back on my career, I realise that there have been more than a few occasions when I "self-disqualified" myself from a new career role, because I had felt that I lacked some necessary skill or ability.

One of those skills/abilities has been my Chinese language proficiency. I speak Chinese well enough, for everyday purposes. However, I am in the legal profession. My work involves analysing laws and drafting legal contracts. This kind of work calls for higher language standards. You don't merely have to read the small print - you need to be able to write it too. I have that kind of proficiency in the English language, but I've not felt that my command of Chinese was sufficiently strong.


I've just returned from a business trip to Shanghai. This was my first time there. The business and financial district of Shanghai looks extremely modern and developed. The place reeks of consumerism and wealth. You can tell from the number of luxury cars whizzing by on the roads, and also the types of shops that line the streets. Gucci, Cartier, Apple, Louis Vuitton, the Ritz Carlton and the like.

To prepare for this trip, I had brushed up on my Chinese language. This trip was an important one from a work perspective. So I took the trouble to learn various technical terms in Chinese that are relevant to my type of work. For example, credit risk management (信用风险管理), interest rate swaps (利率互换), clearing house (清算所), events of default (违约事件), regulatory requirements (监管要求) and risk exposure limits (风险敞口险额).

In the two weeks before my business trip, I had set the target of learning 5 to 10 technical phrases per day. By the time I stepped foot on the plane to Shanghai, I had mastered about 80 such terms and phrases. At my meetings in Shanghai, I was pleased to find that this newly-expanded Chinese vocabulary of mine comfortably got me through.

Now, looking back on my school days, I wonder why Chinese had seemed so difficult back then, whereas the learning seemed relatively quick and painless this time round. Then the answer struck me. But of course. Here I was learning for a specific purpose - I knew why I wanted to learn, and what I had to use the learning for. I needed to know how to say the things that I needed to say.

Whereas in school, Chinese had been difficult because it didn't seem to have any purpose, beyond exams and tests. 默写,in particular, had seemed quite pointless - you basically had to memorise long sentences and regurgitate them for the sake of scoring marks.

9 comments:

Anonymous said...

You are so lucky, look at Tang Liang Hong,he was not so lucky

Anonymous said...

This shows that when there are incentives, especially money, everything also can. Especially for adults.

Business trip = money or potential money.

wu lui lai leow.

Anonymous said...

Not just money but also the right kind and amount of money.

If it is right, even Singapore's low birth rate can also be solved with money.

But PAP govt is not prepared to spend the right kind and amount of money that can solve it.


Anonymous said...

It would help if they merely stopped worsening the ageing population issue.

If today you grant citizenship to an excessive number of foreigners in their 30s and 40s, what do you get in 30 or 40 years time?

An excessive number of old folks who were formerly foreigners and are now citizens ...

Xianlong said...

S Korea & Taiwan developed their economies into powerhouses despite using their native languages. Learning needs to be fun & for a purpose. I did very well in geography cause i know i can relate to features on earth. For chinese, it became an exercise in eating dog shit during upper secondary.

I don't see the purpose of memorising text & writing them out. Language learning could be accelerated by subtitles for shows & mtvs.

Anonymous said...

@ Thus you could say that it is important - but not absolutely essential - to be proficient in the Chinese language, if you want to work in Shanghai.

Sigh, guess SG has to work even harder.

AarCee EmJay said...

Mr. Wang, love your posts! Your love for cats or just their pics is commendable.:)

I always thought Chinese was a tough language. I want to be at least be conversant in it, but the tones are just like distant dreams!! Unreachable!

Anonymous said...

Big fan. Yes I'm one of the many Singaporeans who have fled to PRC for a better life. This is an irony given that I am a complete banana and barely managed a C6 on my Chinese AO. After 4 years in Shanghai and Beijing - I have developed a grudging admiration for the nuances in the language and the culture (not so much its people or leaders).

SeangPin said...

Wow! Well done! I feel so proud of you. ;-) (Those technical terms bring back such memories...)