Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

From Zuckerberg’s Chinese to Lei Jun’s English: tech leaders busy learning foreign languages

“Tech industry leaders from Silicon Valley to Beijing have at least one shared hobby – learning a foreign language as soon as possible – whether it be Putonghua for Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg or English for Xiaomi’s Lei Jun.

In China, many tech industry leaders have strong academic backgrounds in computer science but their communication skills may not be as good as their coding, in particularly when they have to speak on the world stage. As Chinese companies increasingly look towards overseas expansion, engagement with global customers has become a must-do thing for many top executives.

Those Chinese tech bosses who do speak fluent English often attract more recognition and exposure in the West than some of their peers. For example, Jack Ma Yun, co-founder and chairman of Alibaba, China’s top e-commerce firm, is widely recognised as a great public speaker on the world stage. Ma began his career as an English teacher and realised how important English is as a global language way ahead of many of his peers.”

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Languages do matter!


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