y career has been heavily influenced by my Chinese language studies,” says Cassandra Olson. “During the application process for my current employer, which is headquartered in China, I had a competitive advantage compared with my peers because I can speak Chinese fluently.”
Olson, from Texas in the United States, began learning Chinese at age 18 at Bard College in New York City. She improved her command of the language by studying at Peking University in Beijing and the Harbin Institute of Technology in Heilongjiang province.
Now, working in Los Angeles as business development manager for JL Real Estate Development, Olson speaks Chinese every day in the office during meetings and in casual conversation.
“I use Chinese to respond to an average of four to 60 WeChat messages every day,” Olson says. As well as phone calls, emails and meetings in Chinese, she gives at least one public speech per month to Chinese-speaking audiences.
“Thanks to my language skills, I’m able to become a bridge and open up a market that would be inaccessible for many Americans.”
An increasing number of companies in LA are recruiting bilingual Chinese speakers. A quick search on the online business network LinkedIn finds there are nearly 500,000 job openings in the US that require Chinese language skills.
The openings are in a range of industries, including technology, education, entertainment, hospitality, health, finance, banking, real estate and marketing.
The demand for Chinese language skills is being fueled by the growing number of Chinese-speaking customers in the US, according to the most recently published research by the American Community Survey.
More than 1.6 million of the almost 3 million Chinese-speaking immigrants in the country have reported limited proficiency in English, the survey found.
In addition to immigrants, local businesses are taking Chinese-speaking travelers into consideration.
In 2016, almost 3 million Chinese tourists visited the US, and more than one in three chose LA as the first stop of their trip.
Research by the US Department of Commerce shows that Chinese tourists spent $33 billion (27 billion euros; £21 billion) in the country that year, and experts expect tourist numbers to continue to grow.
“In the Chinese outbound tourism industry, culture and language gaps prevent Chinese tourists from having an optimal travel experience in foreign countries,” says Betty Ban, co-founder of Voyadi, which offers personalized experiences for international travelers. Its primary market is Chinese outbound tourists.
“We need more Chinese-speaking job candidates to work in marketing and in customerfacing roles,” Ban says.
Xiaowei Ding, co-founder and CEO of Voxelcloud, a startup in LA that provides automated medical diagnosis assistance through artificial intelligence and cloud computing technologies, says the rapid growth of venture capital and China’s huge financial market means “companies whose employees can communicate in Chinese stand out in raising funds, marketing and sales”.
Jeff Allred, CEO of the San Gabriel Valley Economic Partnership, predicts that demand for people able to speak Chinese will continue to rise.
His organization is a regional, nonprofit corporation that supports businesses, nonprofits and local governments in the San Gabriel Valley, the eastern section of LA that is famous for Asian cuisine. More than half the Chinese population in the US lives in the area, according to research by Asian-Americans Advancing Justice, a nonprofit legal aid and civil rights organization.
Reaching Chinese customers is not just about speaking the language, though, Allred says. His organization also helps enterprises in the San Gabriel Valley to engage with customers via WeChat, the instant-messaging and social media app.
Winston Xie, head of user acquisition for Airmule, says, “You have to understand the market in order to tailor an effective marketing strategy.”
Airmule is a technology platform in LA that allows travelers to earn money during international flights by working as onboard couriers.
“WeChat and Sina Weibo — often known as China’s version of Twitter — are great channels,” Xie says.
“They can help our company to target a specifically Chinese audience.
“However, to maximize the power of these marketing channels, it’s important to know the Chinese market.
“For example, if your company is targeting the younger generation, you need to know what Chinese millennials are interested in, and understand the newest trends in China.”
Reflecting on her experiences learning Chinese, Olson speaks of the “wonderful surprises” her understanding of Chinese has brought to her life and career.
“The truly awe-inspiring thing is realizing that knowing Chinese opens up communication with over 1.3 billion people who I would not have been able to communicate with before. That is truly amazing to think about,” she says.
To better meet demand for Chinese learning overseas, Confucius Institutes have been established worldwide since 2004.
The institutes, which are affiliated with the Ministry of Education, are nonprofit public educational organizations that aim to promote Chinese language and culture, support local Chinese teaching internationally, and facilitate cultural exchanges.
As of September, 516 Confucius Institutes had been established in 142 countries and regions across the world, helping more than 7 million people learn Chinese, according to the Confucius Institute Headquarters, which is in Beijing.
Meanwhile, enthusiasm for learning Chinese has been rising continuously among students overseas, largely as a result of China’s dramatic economic development and increasingly frequent exchanges with the country.
To date, at least 67 countries have made Chinese teaching mandatory in their national educational systems, and more e than 170 countries have established Chinese - classes, according to statistics from m the Confucius Institute Headquarters.
In addition to the government-backed d efforts to promote the language overseas s, savvy Chinese entrepreneurs have begun to o tap into the international market, riding g on the rising popularity of the language.