Hey everyone, how's it going? Today I'm coming at you with another interview. Today's victim is Chinese learner Ray Hecht. He''s been living in Mainland China for years, and has a lot of interesting things to say on his blog about China, dating in China and learning Chinese. Plus he shares some pretty sweet art and poetry as well, so hop on over to his site and check out his writing! Being a fellow comic geek, I can relate to a lot of what he has to say!
Now on to the interview.
I was first interested in Asian culture by way of Japanese manga and anime, being a long-time comic geek in my youthful days (and still a geek in my older days). As I got older I became more interested in film, and after watching many classic Kurosawa I came upon Cantonese films of Wong Kar-wai in my teenage years. Eventually this led to watching the film Farewell my Concubine, directed by Chen Kaige, which is one of my favorite movies of all time. In addition to watching the 90s films of Chinese 5th generation filmmaker Zhang Yimou, I became fascinated by China. However, I studied Japanese in college. Learning kanji did give me me a head start in learning hanzi, although the languages are quite different. I never did end up moving to Japan, just visiting a few times (learning some of the language did help). I later got an opporutnity to move to Shenzhen and I fully embraced it. Currently, Mandarin is the only other language besides English I speak with any fluency, though I always have more to learn.
Q:How long have you been a student of Chinese, and how long did it take you to become conversational?
I've been studying for six years, and in the first year I learned 'survival Chinese.' I've been getting better at being more conversational in the last 3 years I suppose, but on having deep conversations I know I still have ways to go. The problem is that most conversations are the same: "Where are you from?", "Are you married?" "How many years have you been in China?" etc.
Q:What was your biggest challenge learning Chinese? And what came easiest to you?
My biggest challenge at first was definitely the tones. Then, the characters although I am always making progress even though it takes years. When it comes to characters, just be patient but make a little progress all the time. In speaking, the grammar of Chinese is easier and I was able to formulate simple sentences quite fast (even if not pronouncing it correctly). "I like…" "I'm from…" and that sort of thing.
Q:What advice would you give to our readers who are just embarking on their journey with Chinese?
I suppose the best advice is to be fully immersive, go to China — or Taiwan, or Singapore — and start speaking. If you are in a big city in China, be careful not to be in the bubble that is the expat scene in which you rarely even speak Mandarin. Push yourself to practice those phrases you studied in real-life, it's the only way!
Q:Do you have a favorite Chinese phrase? If so, what is it and why?
Well, 多少錢 duoshaoqian ("How much money?") would be the phrase I say the most often, in going out shopping everyday. Some vocabulary words are fun, when Chinese can be so literal. Technological words such as 電腦 diannao (electric brain: computer) and 電影 dianying (electric shadow: movie) and many more.
Q:What's your one biggest "hack" for learning Chinese?
One trick is to not stress about tones too much, and just try wait you're best until one day it becomes effortless. You can still communicate, don't be afraid to make mistakes. With pronunciation, one can imitate another more advanced learner of Mandarin instead of imitating native speakers. After all, any fluent learner was once a beginner and can offer great advice.
Thanks for taking the time to share with us Ray! I hope everyone will learn from Ray's experiences, and move forward in their own studies. I especially agree with his point on getting out there and SPEAKING. So what are you still doing here? Get out there and practice your Chinese!