While he was still busy establishing himself as one of the most exciting young talents in men’s badminton, Olympic bronze medallist Viktor Axelsen decided to learn Mandarin – enabling him to communicate in a country that boasts a huge fanbase in the sport. Now fluent in China’s principal tongue at the age of just 24, the Dane shares his insights into just how rewarding picking up the language has been for his career, and offers some valuable advice for fellow athletes who are itching to broaden their own linguistic horizons…

Learn from the best
First of all, I made a plan for how I wanted to learn the language. I spoke to a few other people who have learned a language before and then I tried to look at how I could do so as effectively as possible. I got a private teacher, because that seemed to be the best way to do it. I can definitely vouch for that; I was really lucky to find a good teacher early on, and that was a huge help for me.

Immerse yourself
Exposure is important. Music, movies, TV series, speaking with friends; they’re all really useful. I started listening to Chinese podcasts while driving my car and on long journeys to Asia. I also wasn’t afraid to fail; I set aside one to two hours every day to practise my skills, and tried to speak straight away. After a year, I had a pretty solid base.

Engage with the fans
Badminton is such a big sport in China. Although the situation is improving, there aren’t a lot of English-speaking people in the country, so if you can communicate better with the Chinese fans and get an understanding of how they do things over there, it’s really interesting. The Chinese players have given me the opportunity to do just that. I also wanted to do something else other than just play badminton. I wanted to use my brain in another way; that’s why I decided to take on Mandarin.

Reap the rewards
Learning to speak Mandarin has definitely given me opportunities to get into China more and to do some stuff there. I played an exhibition match with Chen Long in December last year, and my team is speaking to some Chinese companies too. Things are moving in the right direction, and being able to speak Mandarin is definitely making me more attractive in China from a business perspective. I’m really happy that things are starting to pay off now.