Most Canadian job seekers would understand a “bilingual” position to be demanding language skills in both English and French. But in the Greater Vancouver Area of British Columbia, “bilingual” often refers to English and Mandarin.
If familiarity with Mandarin (and sometimes Cantonese) is not a full-on job requirement, it may be listed as a “preferred qualification”, “strong asset”, or “big bonus.”
The Greater Vancouver area is known to be a thriving hub of Chinese culture.
For instance, popular ride-sharing apps Uber and Lyft are currently banned in B.C., but there are a handful of Chinese-language ride-sharing apps such as Udi Kuaiche and Longmao that serve only Chinese customers and will not pick up “Westerners.”
The real estate market in the Greater Vancouver area is infamous for being Chinese-dominated – in Richmond, B.C., where the population is 71 percent Asian (54 percent Chinese), a complaint was filed with the B.C. human rights tribunal in 2015 over a townhouse complex’s strata meetings, which were taking place exclusively in Mandarin.
Telecommunications company Shaw was in the news this summer after a former employee claimed Mandarin and Cantonese-speaking customers were offered lower rates and better deals than customers who did not speak Mandarin or Cantonese.
When it comes to jobs, immigration consulting, banks, casinos, academic writing services, travel-tour agencies, and luxury retail are areas where postings frequently ask for applicants to be fluent in Mandarin.
This doesn’t include businesses that are outright Chinese-owned and Chinese-marketed, such as Fairchild Television, Ming Pao Daily News, and other Chinese-language media outlets, and companies that market to a majority-Chinese customer base, such as T&T Market or one of the region’s many bubble tea chains.
Some job postings were written entirely in Chinese characters. But more and more non-Chinese retail brands are asking for Mandarin-speaking sales personnel in Metro Vancouver– brands such as Lululemon, Freedom Mobile, and Sleep Country Canada.
No employers replied to my request for comment
The B.C. Human Rights Clinic states that during the pre-employment process, “Employers may ask what languages you read and speak fluently if it’s related to the job you’re applying for.” So I reached out to Lululemon, Freedom Mobile, and Sleep Country Canada to try to address that item – why these companies decided it was necessary to create specific Mandarin-only sales positions in Vancouver, and how proficient Mandarin language skills are related to the job.
Neither Lululemon nor Freedom Mobile responded to request for comment. Sleep Country Canada could not be reached in time for publication of this article.
There are countless companies looking for Mandarin-speaking staff, but I only contacted companies that listed Chinese-language skills as a requirement (not a “preference” or “asset”).
I didn’t contact companies that marketed exclusively to Chinese people overseas (e.g. education consulting, international trade), nor to Chinese-centered NGOs or immigration consulting firms, nor to healthcare-associated services. I also did not reach out to restaurants specializing in Chinese cuisine, or any tourism-related company. It makes sense why these organizations would desire Chinese-speaking staff.
What made a little less sense was my quick online job search that showed organizations such as Vancouver Fashion Week, Canada Youth Arts Development Program, and Canada Youth Robotics Club all listing fluency in Mandarin as a job requirement.
Public Canadian organizations also require fluency in Mandarin
Vancouver Fashion Week was searching for a Mandarin-speaking Sales and Marketing Coordinator; Canada Youth Arts Development Program for an Event Coordinator; and Canada Youth Robotics Club for a Volunteer Supervisor & Event Coordinator.
None of these organizations seemed to be Chinese social or cultural organizations, so I reached out and asked them why the job applicants for these positions were required to speak Mandarin.
In the case of the Canada Youth Arts Development Program, I noticed on their “Supporters” page that they have ties to multiple Chinese organizations, such as Vancouver Chinese Women’s Association, Lahoo.ca, Meng’s Art Institute Inc., and the Canada Alliance of Chinese Association; and the majority of their media partners were Chinese-language media, such as Singtao Newspaper, Xinhua News Agency, and Fairchild Television.
None of Vancouver Fashion Week, Canada Youth Arts Development Program, or Canada Youth Robotics Club responded to request for comment.
I also contacted RBC, which was searching for a Mandarin or Cantonese-speaking Mortgage Specialist in the suburb of Coquitlam, BC, but they could not be reached in time for publication of this article.
While many companies and organizations are openly seeking Mandarin or Cantonese-speaking employees, they don’t seem to want to explain why the employees must speak one of these two languages.
Albert Lo of the Canadian Race Relations Foundation has previously stated that when an employer is insisting on a language requirement, they might actually be using the language requirement as a cover for ethnic discrimination.
A moseying through a few online forums shows that a couple of Vancouver-area individuals have openly complained about job postings requiring Mandarin-language skills, but many of the responses to these individuals dismiss their concerns, and tell them “learn Mandarin then.”
But is that really so simple?
The solution is not as simple as “stop whining and learn Mandarin”
Language-learning is a personal hobby of mine – I have studied French, Spanish, and Farsi – and it’s an undertaking that requires a serious investment in time and money, especially when you’re learning as an adult and plan on maintaining your skills indefinitely.
Those who dismiss this issue by saying non-Chinese British Columbians should simply “stop whining and learn Mandarin” lack perspective and compassion.
Should those who were born in Canada and have their roots in the Vancouver area simply have to accept that their region is being colonized by a wealthy foreign class, and spend time and money to learn the language of their colonizers?
Perhaps if the Chinese were offering free Mandarin classes to Vancouver-area residents, just as the Canadian government offers to immigrants to learn English and French, this would be a different story.
As the B.C. Human Rights Clinic states: “Employers may ask what languages you read and speak fluently if it’s related to the job you’re applying for.” Nevermind the fact that employers are completely unwilling to address why they’re asking for Chinese-speaking staff – what happens when the justification for speaking a language is that we must speak the language of the clientele able to spend the most money?
A unified language is conducive to intercultural communication and understanding, so employers in the Greater Vancouver area ought to ask themselves whether a unified language – English, in the case of BC – is something they value or not.