10 things you might not know about Chinese New Year

Wherever you are in the world, happy Chinese New Year!

1. The date of Chinese New Year is based on the Chinese lunar calendar and falls sometime in January or February each year. It falls on 19th February 2015 and celebrates the Year of the Goat (or Ram). 2016 will celebrate the Year of the Monkey.

2. Years in the Chinese calander are named after 12 different animals – the rat, ox, tiger, rabbit, dragon, snake, horse, goat, monkey, rooster, dog and pig. Each animal is associated with a particular element – water, wood, fire or metal – and particular characteristics are associated with each animal and the people born during the year of that animal. People born in the Year of the Goat are characteristically kind, calm, thoughtful and honest.

3. You can wish someone happy new year in Chinese by saying xīnnián kuàilè (new year happiness!) or xīnnián hǎo (new year goodness!).

4. Chinese New Year is celebrated on the first day of the first month and the celebrations continue for two weeks.

5. As well as being celebrated in China and Taiwan, it is also marked among Overseas Chinese communities, and in Korea, Mongolia, Nepal, Bhutan, Vietnam and Japan.

6. Chinese New Year is a time when people return to their hometowns to celebrate with their families, so is not a good time to travel in places with large Chinese populations as everybody seems to be on the move.

7. During the festivities doors and windows are decorated with phrases related to happiness, wealth and longevity written or printed on red paper.

8. Before Chinese New Year people clean their houses thoroughly, which is believed to sweep away any bad luck. They also buy new clothes and shoes, and get their hair cut, all of which symbolise a fresh start.

9. On New Year’s Eve families have a big meal together. This may include fish, dim sum, dumplings and dessert.

10. On the first day of the New Year many people, especially Buddhists, abstain from eating meat, a practice which is thought to ensure a long life. The older members of the family present children and younger members with red envelopes of money, and people visit their elderly relatives.

Evening courses in Chinese

Cactus offers evening courses in Chinese Cantonese in London; next start dates are April and July 2015.

Courses are also available in Chinese Mandarin in London and across the UK; next start dates are April and July 2015.

Chinese courses in China

Cactus offers courses in Chinese Mandarin in China (Beijing, Hong Kong and Shanghai). Start dates are year-round.


Language opens door to new markets – the increase in Arabic, Russian and Mandarin

At a time of global economic downturn, tapping into new markets has never been so relevant to the success, indeed survival, of businesses worldwide.

As recession deals its harsh blows to flailing western economies, drawn deeper into a spiral of unemployment, inflation, negative home equity and soaring energy and fuel prices, it is becoming clear that we need to look further afield, on a global scale, to maximise our earning potential.

With a market in recession, as is now the case with the US and many countries in Western Europe, one of the best things a business can do is diversify – not necessarily product, but clientele. Forming strategic partnerships with emerging markets such as Russia, China and the Arabic world is one such critical step. These developing markets are less affected by the crises currently deflating confidence in western economies and, perhaps more importantly, are still doing well despite the economic decline that surrounds them. They have up to now received investment from developed countries, they have built financial reserves from recent growth, and they harbour newly affluent locals who, although not as brazen in their spending as their western counterparts, have money to spend and investments to sniff out. They are keen to be at the forefront of the global economy and this may be their time.

So, how best to get in on the act with the developing powerhouses of China, Russia and the like? One key factor that cannot be overlooked when it comes to gaining access to foreign markets is the importance of language. Long-term partnerships with any new market depend on relationship building; these relationships in turn are formed through linguistic and cultural awareness. English may be the accepted tongue when it comes to international communication, but there can be no underestimating the importance – if not supremacy – of other languages on a regional scale. Often the quickest way to open doors is to speak to someone in their own language and, in a world where English rules, where it’s the easy option, the effort to speak your target market’s language and understand its culture will not go unnoticed.

Let’s look at Russia. This is a country whose economy is thriving off oil exports and military manufacturing, fast emerging as the energy-producing superpower of Europe. Culturally and in business, Russian as a language is spoken by some 270 million native and non-native speakers, and it is used extensively across Eastern Europe, along with German and Polish.

Further east, China’s official language, Mandarin, is now spoken by a billion people worldwide. Although English is increasingly taught and spoken in this booming economy, anyone aspiring to do business in China will be at huge advantage with native knowledge or even proficiency in Mandarin – especially away from the big cities. Being able to communicate on a ‘personal’ level is valued no more than in Asian countries.

And finally, Arabic. Spoken by more than 250 million Arabs, this ancient language of the Qu’ran spans North Africa, from Morocco in the west as far east as Iraq. Finance, oil and intelligence depend on it, while, as with many foreign cultures, businesses with knowledge of the language have the edge when it comes to understanding nuances, customs and beliefs that often go unnoticed in English.

Any business aspiring to infiltrate these emerging markets would therefore do well to adopt a strategic approach to multi-lingual communication. Updating a website so it is accessible in multiple languages, recruiting native speakers and outsourcing translators are useful steps. Yet utilising the workforce that you already have is arguably the most effective way to embrace the new multi-lingual environment that lies ahead.

Linguistic and cross-cultural training will provide employees and businesses with language skills attuned to their particular markets and an appreciation of the cultures within which they want to work – an investment that will reap long-term rewards. Cultural awareness in particular may be easy to overlook, but it is key in building successful relationships, preventing costly misunderstandings, managing multi-cultural teams and reducing culture shock if employees are relocating.

Language in this sense really does help to open doors, and investing in an emerging market equipped with the appropriate knowledge is a step that could potentially both rescue and future-proof your business.