Clear Communication with your Chinese Supplier

Trade Advisory

02 August 2021 • 12 min read

Clear Communication with your Chinese Supplier

Editorial Team

One of the obvious challenges of trading with China or Chinese suppliers is overcoming the language barrier. Read on for tips on making your communication with them more effective.

One of the obvious challenges of trading with China or Chinese suppliers is overcoming the language barrier. Understanding the Chinese business and relational culture among other nuances can go a long way in improving communication and subsequently enabling the formation of strong relationships. Fortunately, there are multiple ways in which the communication can be made more efficient and fruitful for both parties. Read on to understand what they are.  

Check out our comprehensive guide on importing from China to India

Make your initial contact fruitful with these tips

  • Restrict slang – Avoid the use of slang, idioms and flowery English to minimize communication difficulties.  
  • Speak slower – For most Chinese suppliers, English will not be their first language. If you are speaking with them in English, talk slowly to help them understand you better.
  • Learn language basics – It can be a good move to learn the basics of their language, such as greetings and work-related words and phrases. It will show them your willingness to develop the business relationship.
  • Have one point of contact – Limiting the number of intermediaries can help in relationship building and to avoid confusion. It is also more effective as this one person will grow to inculcate the necessary requirements and understanding to strengthen and keep the relationship intact.  
  • Use visual aids where possible – The use of visual aids can come to your use while working with Chinese suppliers. For instance, pictures of products can be much easier for the supplier to understand rather than a long paragraph of complicated words or jargon.

Get clarity on your supplier’s language

China is a country with many local dialects and languages. While Mandarin is the official language of China, Cantonese is spoken in many regions such as Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Guangzhou. Knowing which dialect is spoken in which part of the country and by your supplier can help you prepare yourself by learning important phrases and greetings, and hiring translators familiar with that language/dialect.  

Hire an interpreter

Most Chinese suppliers don’t speak English at all. So, hire a translator or interpreter who also understands trading terminology. It would be ideal to find someone who has some understanding or experience working with people from your country. The knowledge of cultural aspects will also help them convey messages appropriately.  Select someone who speaks and understands enough English or the language you need translation from.  

A skilled interpreter is important for the following reasons:

  • To understand cultural interpretations – They should be able to appropriately translate from one language to another while keeping the context, sentiments, and cultural nuances intact.  
  • To rightly interpret a ‘yes’ or ‘no – Culturally, it is rude to say ‘no’ in China, so a translator can help understand any hesitancy on your suppliers side, rightly communicate that to you, and help you maneuver around it.
  • To reduce doubts – You or your Chinese supplier might not be able to understand each other in one go, even if you know each other’s language a bit. An interpreter can double-check every statement and make sure there is no doubt on either side. This will help increase the trust between both parties.

Use technology to aid your communication

  • Google Translate – Use it to translate words you most frequently use and will need to use in order to get your communication right and establish a connection. It can also help you understand how a word should be pronounced.
  • Social Messaging Apps – WeChat, a popular social messaging app in China, is a great platform to instantly and regularly communicate with your Chinese suppliers. It has very helpful features such as a translator, as well as free voice and video calls.  

Make a personal visit

A well-planned visit can be worth the investment as it allows for stronger relationship building. This will:

  • Improve your personal rapport with your supplier, and subsequently lead to smoother business
  • Help in developing a long-term relationship with the supplier

Ensure your emails are effective

Here are some quick tips to optimize communication with your Chinese supplier via email:

  • Less is more - It’s never a good idea to send a host of emails in a short period of time - something importers are often guilty of. It increases the possibility of jargon, slang and spelling errors.
  • Keep it simple - Keep sentences short and crisp. Use bulleted points and lists to help your supplier quickly identify important points and respond accordingly.

Call your Chinese supplier every now and then

Direct phone calls are one of the fastest means of communicating and ensuring that your supplier understands your requirements, and remembers to respond to them.  

By reviewing important details on the phone, many misunderstandings can be avoided, making business communication across oceans simpler. The Chinese are also wary of losing face and hesitate to ask questions such as – “We can’t understand, please clarify” over email. Speaking to them over the phone will help you gauge from their tone and responses whether they are confused, so that you can provide clarity.

Understand the Chinese culture

It is important to understand Chinese culture when you are sourcing from Chinese suppliers. It will also come in handy when you visit the country for your business transactions. If you are planning to do a lot of business with China, here are some tips you can follow:  

  • Self-inform on local festivals – Whenever possible, attend their local events and festivals to understand their culture better.
  • Do a language course – If you can, take a short language course.
  • Graciously accept hospitality – Chinese are touchy about rudeness. Graciously accepting their hospitality and eating their food with a smile can do wonders for trade.
  • Avoid random remarks – Avoid making remark that are out of context, or a joke without thinking, as this can be considered rude and offensive in China.  
  • Respect their hierarchy - The Chinese are known to follow a hierarchy system and are very courteous to those who are high in rank or elderly. So try and use more formal and graceful language when speaking to someone in a superior position.  

As mentioned before, trading with China is often believed to be challenging due to cultural and language barriers. However, it doesn’t have to be so. It is possible to improve upon your communication techniques by hiring an interpreter, using technology, trying to learn the language or some common phrases, and understanding the Chinese culture. Most importantly, keep things simple, no matter which mode of communication you choose.  

Also read How to Find & Select a Freight Forwarder in China & Asian Countries

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