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Zimbabweans get careers moving with Chinese skills

By NKOSANA DLAMINI in Harare, Zimbabwe | China Daily Global | Updated: 2022-09-08 09:35
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A Zimbabwean academic has seen brisk business from compatriots keen to learn Chinese at a school he opened in Harare to tap demand from those who see proficiency in the language as a way to advance their careers.

The Zimgro Chinese Language Consultancy was set up by Tawanda Zimhindo, who also lectures at the University of Zimbabwe's Confucius Institute, which offers Chinese language and cultural programs.

With many prospective students unable to gain acceptance at the university amid high demand, Zimhindo saw there was an opening for a Chinese school.

"I opened Zimgro and lowered the entry requirements to accommodate those who do not meet the minimum entry requirements," said Zimhindo, now 33, who majored in teaching Chinese language and culture at Chinese universities between 2012 and 2017.

Zimgro has been churning out graduates and currently has 140 students on the books.

The demand among students to learn Chinese has been driven by a surge in the number of Chinese companies now operating in Zimbabwe. These companies are engaged in activities ranging from mining and manufacturing to hospitality and communications, and they need locals with Chinese-language skills.

"If you have a proper understanding of their language and culture, it won't take you hours to get the job because whenever there is a Chinese company, there is obviously a job for an interpreter," Zimhindo said.

"Chinese companies turn to them in terms of interpreters. We have a long list of Chinese firms looking for interpreters, looking for human resources workers who speak a bit of Chinese, and the same for managers who also speak some Chinese language. We can't even supply enough of them.

"Those who can speak the language have greater chances of employment."

However, Zimhindo said it's not enough for students to just know the Chinese language, as they must also have an understanding of the culture of their prospective employers.

Mastering culture

"The major emphasis is language but for one to master the language, one also has to master the culture to bridge the communication gap between Chinese and Zimbabweans," he said. "We teach the cultural meaning of time, of food, the cultural meaning of just a visit by a Chinese friend. We are not content to deal with just the surface value."

In Zimbabwe, there have been some conflicts between Chinese employers and local workers, and Zimhindo attributes these incidents to cultural misunderstandings.

"Here in Zimbabwe, our working culture emphasizes the time spent as opposed to one's work output. Chinese people are target-oriented and are hard workers," he said. "What sometimes results in conflict at workplaces comes down to the fact that our work culture is different."

Among those who have benefited from Zimhindo's school is Anesu Rachel Chiveso, who works as an interpreter at Chinese-owned Maxmind Investments Zimbabwe.

"Learning Chinese language and culture changed my life in that I could be hired easily by any Chinese company," Chiveso said.

"Here at my workplace, there are situations that need an appreciation of Chinese culture."

Zimhindo has also inspired his younger family members to learn Chinese. They too have been to Chinese universities.

One of them, Loveness Zimhindo, said she took up Chinese language and culture to enhance her employment opportunities.

"When I enrolled at the University of Zimbabwe, we were approximately 300 students learning the same major … I thought of differentiating myself through learning Chinese language," she said.

"My high command of Chinese language made me unique and it did not take much time to get a good-paying job."

The writer is a freelance writer for China Daily.

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