How To Become An Advanced Mandarin Speaker

What Is An Advanced Mandarin Speaker?

Have you ever wondered what the difference is between a beginner and advanced Mandarin speaker is? Serious language learners know that one of the big differences between the two levels is that advanced speakers not only understand the meaning of words, but the words’ nuances as well.

The better you understand each word and its specific “flavor”, then the more likely you will be to achieve “Advanced Mandarin Speaker” status. 

I recently had the experience of preparing my CV in both English and Chinese. My friend had recommended me to apply (always a good thing) to the company that was interested in expanding their business in China. Translating my CV into Chinese was both a first and valuable experience.

CV copy uses a grade of language that is both professional and straightforward. This was simple for me in English. However, for the Mandarin version, it made me realize both how far I have come, and the large gap between myself and native speakers.

While talking with a Chinese friend about some of the nuances in my translation, two words, “Gu4Wen4” (顾问), and “Zi1Xun2Shi1”(咨询师) both meaning consultant, stuck out to me as an interesting piece of language that other Mandarin learners might appreciate knowing.

The following four points explain the nuances of both words. This knowledge is an important piece of not only business Chinese, but of the language learning process. 

The Difference Between 顾问 (GuWen) and 咨询师 (Zixunshi)

“Gu4Wen4” (顾问) is less formal

顾问 is commonly used for sales people and is decidedly more casual. The sales staff at training centers, phone shops, and other sorts of stores are referred to using this word. Use it as a respectful way to refer to sales people who are not necessarily subject knowledge experts. 

“Zi1Xun2Shi1”(咨询师) is more formal

咨询师 is is used for people who possess highly specialized fields of knowledge. In this same vein it also has a much more academic tone. Research specialists like scientists, engineers, and academics with PHDs are all considered 咨询师.

Of course, this is the word I ended up choosing to use for my CV because the job title I held was in research and development (not sales). Even though I don’t hold a PHD, I still think it is more aligned with the work I was doing.

“Gu4Wen4” (顾问) only appears in titles

Although 顾问 is less formal, it is actually less useful than 咨询师 than you might expect. Mostly it is used to form compound nouns for names, such as a salesperson, legal advisor (法律顾问) or an organization, like the Central Advisory Commission (中央顾问委员会).

“Zi1Xun2Shi1”(咨询师) contains the verb, Zi4Xun4 (咨询)

The word for a research consultant 咨询师 is actually a form of the verb 咨询 (to consult or seek advice from). This verb is actually very common and useful to know in general.

师, the word for teacher, tutor, or master, is simply a way to make the verb into a human noun.

In summary, both words are definitely useful, however it is important to understand the difference between the two. If you can do this, then you will be one step closer to an “Advanced Mandarin Speaker”. I also highly suggest keeping an eye out for other synonyms as you study to increase your knowledge. 

Have you heard these words before? Do you know of any other words that have similar meanings but important differences?

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