Even though Australian companies are very interested in the Asian market, this does not automatically mean they will be able to successfully sell or buy their products overseas from the markets. Australia has realised that language knowegde is key!
In terms of location, Australia is very close to emerging markets in which business is expanding at high speed: in the Asian market, which entails for example the bustling market of India, many opportunities can be found for businesses that wish to expand their scope. However, experts say businesses must first gain knowledge about the Asian languages and cultures before they can reap the fruits of the “Asian Century.”
In fact, according to ABC News, calls have even made to the Federal Government of Australia for them to use a bigger portion of their budget for Asian language education. Laurie Pearcey, director of China strategy and development the University of New South Wales, also believes knowledge about the Asian continent is becoming more and more important for Australian companies: “Employers everywhere are increasingly aware of the rhetoric that surrounds the Asian century, they’re increasingly attuned to the reality that China, and also Asia more broadly, are underwriting so much of the Australian economy.” In addition, he stated that “Not only proficiency in Asian languages but also ‘cultural IQ’ is going to be an increasingly important asset to that company.”
Doug Ferguson, who is the head of KPMG Australia’s China branch, agrees with this view. About 70 per cent of the graduates the company has hired in the last few years can speak Chinese and even though this skill is not mandatory, Ferguson considers it a strong asset: “There are a huge number of Asian students graduating from Australian universities. They present a readily available pool of talent for Australian companies to develop and build Asia-capable workforces. We need to develop talent to pursue the market conditions that Australian companies are meeting.”
One of the graduates that is working for KPMG is Yvonne Lu, who has been working for the company for two years now. According to Lu, her language skills enabled her to build solid relationships with her clients. “Possessing local knowledge and cultural awareness of doing business in China, as well as being a native Chinese speaker, has been a great help to me and my interactions with clients from China,” Lu stated. “It naturally closes the distance between us if there’s no language barrier.” Jennifer Catterson, business manager at Think Global Consulting, also believes her Chinese language skills are a key feature of her success. She said: “On a day-to-day basis, my Chinese language skills are crucial to my position as I often welcome and translate for visiting clients or Chinese delegations.”
The Chinese community in Australia is growing as well: this is why even local companies are hiring Chinese-speaking employees. Peter Cai, who speaks Mandarin and Cantonese and is the brand manager of ANZ Bank in Sydney, says his language skills were a great advantage when he applied for his job. “Customers certainly feel more comfortable when they know I can speak their language and it helps me build rapport, trust and long-term relationships.” As Australia is aiming its focus at the Asian market, Cai believes Asian language skills will become increasingly important.
Now that Asian languages are becoming very important, the Federal Government of Australia is looking for ways to boost Asian language studies in Australian schools and has promised to invest 15.2 million dollars in Asian language students. The government has also set another goal for itself: if it’s up to them, every Australian child has access to Asian language studies in 2025. The Asian language education focuses on Japanese, Chinese, Hindi and Indonesian. Pearcey, however, believes the funding falls short: “The government needs to work in partnership with the industry to investment more in Asian languages in schools and universities and $15.2 million in the white paper is frankly gearing Australian students for mediocrity in the Asian century.”
Even though the approach and its results might be debated, it is good to see that Australia is investing in Asian language skills. It never hurts to gain more knowledge about a language and culture, and this is especially true for international businesses. This is why the UK should set Australia as an example. The Chinese language might be a bridge too far, but it would be wise to invest in language education that focuses on the languages spoken on the continent especially French, German, Spanish and Portuguese. Being able to communicate with business partners and customers abroad gives companies a great advantage and the earlier you start learning a language the better!