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Chinese Business Conversation

Chinese Business Conversation

Martin Lavicka29 May 2015Leave a comment

Written by David Uher

Slaměníková, Tereza and Guo Yiying: Chinese Business Conversation. Brno: Edika 2014, 224 pp. ISBN 978-80-266-0382-5.

Chinese Business Conversation was published last year in the Brno publishing house Edika by two authors Mgr. Tereza Slaměníková, a lecturer in Chinese philology at the Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, Palacký University Olomouc and Guo Yiying, Ph.D., a recent graduate of the doctoral program in Economics and Management at Thomas Bata University in Zlín. The publication builds upon the teaching and academic work of doc. PhDr. Jaromír Vochala, CSc., PhDr. Žu-čen Vochalová, CSc. and first and foremost prof. PhDr. Oldřich Švarný, CSc., who the book is dedicated to. The textbook is a reaction to the need for similarly conceived teaching material on the Czech book market. The hypocritical overlooking of the needs for teaching the Chinese language over at least the last fifteen years on the part of traditional Sinology departments can be explained to a certain extent by the numerous misunderstandings in the area of Czech-Chinese trade relations: “the trade sector represents one of the main areas for application of students with a knowledge of the Chinese language…” (p. 6). This textbook’s project is at the same time the culmination of a number of years of teaching practice by both authors at Palacký University and Thomas Bata University. Since it consists of a conversation textbook, it is designated first and foremost for more advanced students of the modern colloquial language – “who have acquired the basics of Chinese by means of assorted teaching material” (p. 6) – with an interest in trade with China. The main goal is to develop their ability to understand and communicate in colloquial Chinese. Chinese Business Conversation serves as a solid basis for these skills. When compiling their material, the authors of the textbook found inspiration in  the text Textbook of Chinese Conversation (Leda 2007), first and foremost in terms of a teaching method based on “establishing comprehensive phrases with the use of recordings and consequent expansion of vocabulary by means of substitute exercises” (p. 6). The authors were similarly led to the idea of a firm structure for the lessons, as has also been the case with Textbook of Chinese Conversation.

The textbook consists of eighteen thematic units and forty-seven lessons, the arrangement of which reflects the way in which business dealings usually develop. After basic phrases involving the social interactions during meetings between business partners (the units: meetings, banquets and goodbyes), follows the initiation of the actual negotiations and the financial matters of the entire transaction (demand, price offers, prices, orders, discounts, commissions, payments); this in turn is followed by the realization of goods transfer (supply, transport, packaging, insurance, refunds) and development of trade relations (contracts, factory tours, trade representation). Each of the lessons is arranged over two two-page segments: the first of them being dedicated to the main text of the relevant lesson and the second involving exercises. Each double page section has the version in Pinyin Chinese transcription next to a version in Chinese characters. Translations of the textbook texts are also carried out in two ways: a direct one, in other words a literal translation presenting the Czech equivalents of the particular Chinese words under the Pinyin transcription and a loose translation under the text in Chinese characters. The exercises are organized in the same manner as the main text but without, of course, a translation. They are divided into three parts: change, add and answer. A colored folio assists in working with the textbook making it possible for students, based on their needs, to cover up the Czech equivalents of the Chinese words in the main texts and the right answers to the exercises. “Because, however, the particular lessons do not directly require the acquisition of the previous material” (p. 6) the textbook can be approached in a selective manner as well. With the use of the transcription and the characters, the students have a choice depending on whether they need a knowledge of the Chinese characters in their study of colloquial Chinese. A dictionary is placed at the end of the textbook which, as the authors rightfully emphasize, is not designed for itemized studying of vocabulary. The dictionary, as well as the entire text, make the textbook an undoubtedly significant contribution to the Czech-Chinese language discourse which has been up until now presented only in terms of Chinese projects, perhaps most significantly with the New Czech-Chinese Dictionary (Commercial Press 1998) which is of course designed more for Chinese users of Czech than Czech students of Chinese.

Although the text is not designed for self-learners, it is positively enhanced by the presence of the instructions “How to use the textbook.” Also of value in the course is the inclusion of recordings of texts and exercises made at a natural speed by native Chinese speakers. Work with the recording is emphasized in the introduction to the textbook explaining its essential character for the users when studying on their own. The text serves as “a map” to the recordings and without it the user would have major difficulties finding their way through the recordings. The recordings are thus the foundation stone, the axis of the entire course, an essential part of the textbook. Work with the recordings is aided by the fact that the dialogues are always included with both male and female voices, allowing the student to distinguish the particular speeches easier than would have been the case with only one gender. It is a drawback that the publishing house was not able to obtain a recording carried out by speakers of phonological standard modern Chinese, that is Peking Chinese. On the other hand, I am aware, based on my own experience, how difficult it is to find these kind of speakers for cooperation in the Czech Republic. This is not only due to the number being relatively low in relation to the overall population of China, but also a result of the number of appropriate people, further decreased by demands in terms of age, gender, education and the language environment which they grew up in. On the other hand, the existence of recordings of this kind would make it possible to transcribe the text of the textbook into the prosodic transcription of Chinese developed by Professor Švarný, which would make them even more valuable and would additionally make the textbook a source of knowledge about the prosodic characters of the thematically clearly defined dialogues, very little of which, unfortunately, we know about at present. Of merit is the link between the textbook and the already existing Czech teaching projects, first and foremost with Introduction to the Study of Colloquial Chinese (Palacký University 2001) and the four-volume Colloquial Chinese in Examples (Palacký University Press 1998) by Professor O. Švarný along with his four-volume Textbook Dictionary of the Chinese Language (Palacký University Press 1998-2000), the Chinese-Czech and Czech-Chinese Dictionary (Leda 2003) by doc. J. Vochala and Textbook of Chinese Conversation. The greatest didactic contribution of the textbook is in my mind its two-color scheme and the use of the already-mentioned red folio which serve to increase the already practical character of the entire text. In contrast, I would have greatly welcomed if the authors had included a passage “Where from here?” into the textbook. These kinds of passages would have served students as inspiration for further study with a list of recommended literature and notes concerning possible vocabulary expansion of the textbook with the dictionary by doc. J. Vochala. They could have here also informed the readers about the existence of the publication Collection of Chinese Terms from Economics and Politics which came about under the supervision of the leading Czech Chinese scholar PhDr. Zdenka Heřmanová, CSc. at the Oriental Institute of Czechoslovak Academy of Sciences in Prague in the year 1988. These my objections are mostly aimed at how to improve the already high quality textbook in its future editions. I am convinced that this new, and in many respects novel teaching tool, will meet with deserved interest on the part of students of colloquial Chinese. Up until now, students have only had available textbooks focused on the primary learning of Chinese characters. The emphasis on the perception and production of the spoken language allows students to, amongst other things, significantly speed up their study of Chinese, through an emphasis on current trends in language teaching as a practical communication tool as opposed to an abstract theoretical model of reflections on language.

All in all, I view Chinese Business Conversation as a key contribution to the area of the teaching of Chinese in the Czech Republic, due to a genuine, not merely proclaimed, emphasis on spoken language. In this sense, it is in my view, ground-breaking even within the wider European context. Also of importance is the fact that it makes use of the Czech cultural background as opposed to the Japanese, German or Anglo-American. Czech students can now come into contact with Chinese in their own language and cultural environment and this context is usually significantly influenced even in China. I have no doubts that this textbook will find a significant audience amongst students of Chinese. At the same time I hope it serves to inspire colleagues to compile additional teaching tools for the teaching of Chinese. With the growing importance of Chinese as a world language and the related interest in studying Chinese growing, the number of specialists with a knowledge of the language is logically increasing. The number of teaching tools which are emerging, however, still fail to correspond to the growing interest in Chinese. Translations of textbooks and teaching materials from major European languages can be found on the shelves of Czech bookshops. These do not suit, however, our environment in terms of language or in terms of culture. The Czech Republic has a long and fruitful tradition which can be built upon in the area of Chinese didactics. Particularly inspiring in this sense would be the Textbook of Chinese Business Correspondence or Business Chinese in general. There is not a need to create new language projects, but rather to carry on a discussion with the already existing teaching texts, so as to make the remedied issues available elsewhere. A new university textbook along the lines of Introduction to Colloquial Chinese (SPN 1967) would certainly be deserved for this continually more important world language.

Mgr. David Uher, Ph.D. works at the Department of Asian Studies, Faculty of Arts, Palacký University Olomouc

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