Danish badminton star wins Chinese fans with Mandarin skills

Viktor Axelsen is number one in the rankings and the reigning world champion, but badminton is not the strapping Dane's only talent - he also speaks Chinese.

Danish badminton star wins Chinese fans with Mandarin skills
Viktor Axelsen of Denmark (L) shakes hands with opponent Ng Ka Long Angus of Hong Kong. Photo: AFP PHOTO / Johannes EISELE/Ritzau Scanpix

The 24-year-old harnessed the support of the home crowd in the Chinese city of Nanjing on Thursday to reach the quarter-finals of the World Championships.

Axelsen, the top seed, admitted afterwards that he was not at his best in defeating Hong Kong's 10th-seeded Angus Ng Ka-long 21-19, 21-18.

So it helped that he was able to draw on the crowd, who have taken to the Dane partly because of his efforts to learn very passable Chinese.

Having a good grasp of Mandarin helps in a sport where many of his rivals are Chinese or of Chinese descent.

Axelsen has been learning for about four years and can give interviews in the language.

He has even taken to translating for his rivals, including the Chinese badminton legend Lin Dan, and he can also use it to listen in on the tactics of his Chinese opponents.

“It really helps me communicate with my Chinese fans and I really appreciate all the support out here,” he told AFP in Nanjing after defeating Ng.

“Having the Chinese fans yelling your name, I really appreciate that.

“It is also really convenient to be able to speak a bit, not only with the other players, but at restaurants and out there in the real world, so to speak.”

As well as endearing himself to Chinese fans, Axelsen hopes having the language will be useful for life after badminton.

Axelsen won the first game 21-19, then he and Ng went toe-to-toe in the second, trading points, before the Dane pulled away at the end, 21-18.

He celebrated with a heartfelt swing of his fist.

“It meant a lot. Sometimes when you feel like you are not at your highest level, you also have to be able to win,” he said.

“Today I did not feel that good on court to be honest, my opponent definitely made it hard for me, so well played to him.

“I struggled a little bit to win it and that's why I showed some emotions out there today,” he added, before passing a couple of Chinese players and exchanging pleasantries — in Chinese.

In the women's draw, world number one and strong favourite Tai Tzu-ying of Taiwan recovered from a slow start to book her place in the last eight.

Tai was behind in the opening exchanges against Zhang Beiwen, the Chinese-born American who needed internet crowd funding to make it to Nanjing.

But the 24-year-old Tai's quality soon shone through, winning 21-19, 21-14 in 34 minutes to set up a meeting with China's sixth seed He Bingjiao.

READ ALSO: 'Being a couple helps us play better': Danish badminton partners after announcing relationship


Why mastering English isn’t all good news for Danish workers and their companies

While learning English is clearly an advantage for Danish workers, mastering the language of Shakespeare isn't enough for companies that export to Germany.

Why mastering English isn't all good news for Danish workers and their companies
English language skills don’t cut it for Danish companies hoping to export to Germany. Photo: Maheshkumar Painam / Unsplash

The Danish business community is facing a major language problem – and it’s not with English.

According to Dansk Industri (DI), an organisation representing approximately 18,500 companies across Denmark, Danish companies are experiencing a shortage of employees with good German skills.

As more Danes opt to master English, fewer are mastering the German language than in the past. This is making it more difficult, DI said, to trade with companies in Germany. 

Although Danes are considered to be the best in the world at speaking English as a second language, DI Deputy Director Mette Fjord Sørensen said speaking English when doing business in Germany isn’t always an option.

“Germany is a big country and not everyone speaks English at a high level, so misunderstandings can occur that could have consequences for a business deal,” Sørensen told The Local. “Speaking in someone’s native tongue, in this case German, can have a positive effect.”

DI said that German skills are in “extremely high demand” in a wide range of professions, from trade graduates to engineers and craftsmen. 

“Our companies demand employees with dual competencies – for example the engineer or electrician who also knows German,” Sørensen said, adding that DI is worried as they see fewer and fewer students choose to study German. 

An analysis by SMV Denmark, an organisation representing small and medium-sized companies in Denmark, shows that the number of high school students graduating German at A-level fell from 11 percent in 2005 to less than 6 percent last year. Additionally, the number of students admitted to a higher German education last year was 30 percent lower than in 2010, according to Avisen Danmark

Sørensen thinks the long term solution is to expand German language studies within Denmark’s education system, but there are several solutions available in the meantime.

This includes language courses for working professionals, specific to the work they do. 

“German expats in Denmark could also play a vital role in the need for German language competence,” Sørensen said. “We have to dig into the possibilities expats can contribute.”