The best language to learn for a career in Asia is not what you think it is.
NOT Chinese. Not Vietnamese either.
It’s Indonesian/ Bahasa Indonesia!
1) High Demand: Indonesia is the biggest economy in South East Asia. Singapore- Jakarta used to be one of the top-10 busiest routes in the world (10 flights per day). Flights are coming back fast.
Favourable demographics means economic growth should continue for decades.
2) Low supply: the supply of well-educated/ suitably qualified Bahasa speakers is too low to satisfy the massive demand. Every company I know prefers to hire locals. But the supply is simply not big enough/ there is a skills mismatch. The education system is improving but not fast enough. In the meantime, foreigners who speak Indonesian and are culturally adaptable can fill this gap.
Even companies in Singapore are excited to see a candidate who speaks Indonesian.
3) Easy: much easier than Mandarin. Source: I learned both. I wish I would have focused on Bahasa Indonesia.
Indonesian is one of the easiest languages in the world. English-speakers can read it, no tones like in Chinese or Vietnamese, grammar is easy.
Sure, a little bit of Mandarin is helpful, same goes for any other language. But if you want to reach real fluency that will be relevant for business, Indonesian is the way to go.
If you want to be business fluent in Chinese, you need at least 4 years in China or Taiwan. 2 years studying full-time and then 2 more years living/ working. Otherwise, you will not be fluent enough.
With Indonesian, you can work in Indonesia, Singapore and even Malaysia. Malaysian is very similar to Indonesian.
I wish someone would have told me this 15 years ago when I graduated from my MBA.
In my first month at McKinsey, I was sent to Jakarta. I spent most of my time at the firm in Indonesia.
That’s why I am sharing this now.