Language Matters

Kathleen Stein Smith, Ph.D

A Chinese businessman’s awkward English

“Is it brave or embarrassing to speak in a language you’re not quite fluent in? That’s the question being asked in China after a famous businessman gave a short speech in English.

It was a pretty standard opening line: ‘Hello. How are you?’ But the fact that it was delivered in English by one of China’s most prominent businessmen immediately captivated the audience. Lei Jun, founder and chief executive of phone company Xiaomi, was in India for a launch event last week.

Comparisons were also inevitably drawn to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg’s speech in Mandarin to a Chinese audience last year. ‘Does Bill Gates speak fluent Mandarin? Is Mark Zuckerberg’s Mandarin pronunciation that accurate? It is valuable for these big bosses to try,’ read one comment.

Lei himself has taken to his Weibo page to express surprise at the online interest. He posted: ‘I went on stage and spoke several sentences in English only to entertain Indian Xiaomi fans. I have never thought video of the speech will spread to China so quickly. Everyone in China is laughing.

“Now that there are more and more Xiaomi fans overseas, I really should improve my English so that I won’t disappoint everyone!’ he wrote.”

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Languages do matter!

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