Chinese Project Managers Face Barriers To Western Acceptance

by Ms Gan Qing MSc BA and Jim Owens PMP - Date: 2007-03-31 - Word Count: 755 Share This!

In recent years there has been an enormous growth in both the adoption of Project Management and the numbers of professional project managers in China. Part of this growth has been from within strong project management focused companies, such as the "Yunnan Corporation for International Techno-Economic Cooperation". Another key driver is the desire of the Chinese people to achieve the PMP (Project Management Professional) international certification awarded by PMI (the Project Management Institute) as this is the most recognized and highly desired project management certification in the world.

Project management is becoming a way of life in modern China, as its people find their way in a new world. From massive construction, mining and Information Technology projects, down to managing community projects such as organizing events for groups such as the Kunming Nanyuan Minority nationality Art Troupe (which belongs to China Comfort Group), which performed traditional entertainment at the Asian Sports Games in Beijing.

The accelerating growth of Project Management Professionals (PMP's) in Asia, and particularly in China, has been recognised by the American-based PMI, by the creation of an all-Chinese PMI Web Site, and an Asia Pacific branch of PMI in Singapore.
However there are barriers to Chinese project managers interfacing with the west, and these problems are common to Chinese students, professionals and academics alike, which emanate from the Chinese culture and way of learning.

The phenomenon is referred to locally in China as "Dumb English". Essentially it means that many very intelligent Chinese people -- who can read, write and comprehend the English language well -- perform poorly in speaking English.

To understand why this happens, one must consider rote learning -- meaning memorizing by repetition and hard work -- is imbedded in the Chinese educational culture, and indeed valued above other methods because of their Confucian heritage. To a Chinese family, success comes only from hard work, whereas in the West, there is a belief that "ability" (with which one is born) has a greater influence. While there are shortcoming of the rote system, at least it is enables a Chinese student to accept their success or failure as a personal success or failure because of their belief that the degree of success comes from their own level of effort, and this encourages them to work harder and harder, rather than an relying on accident of birth.
Conversely, in the West, children are less likely to be blamed for their failures. Also In the West, people have faith in the IQ testing system, which "measures" their ability, thus creating perceived mental limitations. But the Chinese believe that hard work increases ability, just as repeatedly lifting rocks increases muscular ability.

To understand the background to Chinese learning even deeper, one must consider how written language is learned as an infant.
In the West, children are taught letters and syllables and their corresponding sounds, and from these "building blocks" children can build complicated words. If they forget how to spell a word they can often reconstruct it from the sounds and letters that they know. Not so with the Chinese. In the Chinese language there is no real concept of "spelling", they must memorise huge numbers of complicated pictures-like symbols, and so there is no spelling or reconstructing strategy available to them. So the only way to read Chinese is through rote learning. As this is how Chinese children start off their life in learning, then it helps set a pattern for learning throughout life.

In the case of learning the English language, much of this rote learning is internalised as it is passively acquired, or at best written, rather than spoken. Chinese students also learn English (Largely American English) from sources outside school, such as television, movies, the internet, and so on. But again this envolves mainly passive learning.
The result is that many Chinese students do not develop proficiency in speaking in English. Unfortunately when Chinese nationals travel to English-speaking countries on business, to study, or to work, then their lack of ability to speak English can give the impression of a lower intelligence.

The problem is not easily addressed, for two reasons. Firstly, learning patterns tend to be set early in life, as indeed is the ability to assimilate and synthesize language, and secondly because the student, now an adult, can feel embarrassed in its use, through lack of practice in the formative years.
So while project management is advancing significantly in China, and the numbers of Chinese PMP's is accelerating, Chinese project managers must address their inability to speak well in English, in order to be successful in their career when in English-speaking countries.

Related Tags: china, education, learning, management, project management, chinese, project, american english, minority, pmp, project manager, pmi, kunming, promotepm, jim owens pmp, yunnan, rote, gan qing, nanyuan

Gan Qing MSC MA, is a lecturer in the English Language in Kunming in The Yunnan district of China and is a former project manager. Jim Owens PMP is a career Project Manager, presenter and PMP instructor, Director of Certification with PMI Western Australia Chapter,. Visit Jim's website

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