I hope everyone enjoyed last week's post:Interview with a Chinese Learner. Check it out HERE if you haven't already. Today, we are continuing with this segment!
Last week, my interviewee, Oll Linge, lives in Taiwan and has studied Chinese extensively there. However, as a contrast, this week I am interviewing Daniel Scott, from Discovering Chinese Life. His experience differs in that he lives on the mainland, and as such has experienced a different breed of Chinese language and culture. I know what you're thinking, "but Chinese is Chinese, right?". Wrong. Thing about the differences between American English and that spoken in the UK, and you will be on the right track. In fact, this topic deserves an article of its own, but I digress.
Daniel is a teacher in a private Chinese school, and has shared a lot of experiences similar to my own, though I myself have never been to Mainland China. So let's see what he has to say about his time in China, and more importantly for our purposes, his insights into learning Chinese!
I saw learning Chinese as a necessity and opportunity when moving to China. I work at a private Chinese school so I need to know how to read and communicate with the nationals I work with whether they know English or not. It’s also quite humbling knowing I daily interact with my students who know 2-4 languages. When going public, as soon as I step out my apartment’s front door, I’m immersed in a culture where English is becoming more popular but where locals are highly appreciative of foreigners knowing their native tongue. It’s amazing the relationships you can build.
Q:How long have you been a student of Chinese, and how long did it take you to become conversational?
I have studied Chinese for over three years now. The first six months was spent on tones and simple phrases alone. As far as becoming conversational, it would depend on the context. My wife and I both went out quite often the first two years of living here and were able to communicate. It’s not an impossible language. We still go out a lot to practice and pick up new words. Of course, there’s always the internet to help learn what words or phrases are “hot."
Q:What was your biggest challenge learning Chinese? And what came easiest to you?
A challenge that still happens is when I’m with locals and they discuss an issue that I haven’t come across or studied yet. I get a gist of what they’re taking about, but certain vocabulary has me turning to my Pleco occasionally. It’s no biggie since I can turn those words into cards that I’ll study for the future. The easiest thing about Chinese is possibly the grammar. Being an adult, apart from my elementary students, I can pick up the rules and apply them. Now it takes practice obviously to have it become more natural, but it definitely can happen over time. Failure would probably be the top thing though, but it’s one of the most important factors when it comes to learning another language. My students would second that notion.
Q:What advice would you give to our readers who are just embarking on their journey with Chinese?
Practice, fail and apply as much as you can in real life. You can listen to mp3’s all you want, which isn’t at all worthless, but at least here in China you can hear the same phrase or word said in numerous ways. The more exposure you have, the most understanding you will have in the long run. When it comes to writing, in my case, there was a point where I had written and studied so many Chinese characters that when learning a new character, I could look at it 1-2 times and already know how to write it without practice.
Q:Do you have a favorite Chinese phrase? If so, what is it and why?
There was a point at school last year where I really wanted to say to my students, “Get over it.” They weren’t trying to be spoiled. I think just a bunch of little things were adding up in my head so I wanted to say something off-the-cuff. So I asked a co-worker who recommended “拉倒吧” to me. He then said that it probably wasn’t the most polite since “算了” could do just fine. It created a good joke that had me remember the phrase, and I use it with that particular Chinese, culture-bridge friend whenever something petty comes along that we should get over. 拉倒吧！
Q:What's your one biggest "hack" for learning Chinese?
I use two dictionaries, Pleco and Youdao. Pleco is used mainly by foreigners, and it gives a good breakdown of words, meanings, pinyin, etc. Youdao is used by Chinese-speakers for English study, but Youdao has better translating for longer sections of words. If a word doesn’t sound right in Youdao, I simply insert it in Pleco. Both dictionaries have vocabulary card systems that make it easy for practicing so the words can quickly become a part of one's arsenal. They’re what I use when I read posts from my students, co-workers and friends on QQ, WeChat and Weibo. These people don’t know it, but they teach me every time they make a post.
Thank you for your time Daniel! Daniel's attitude towards learning is very proactive, and one that we can all learn from, even long-time Chinese learners like myself. Make sure to practice his tips, because there is pure gold in this article. His advice to use Pleco is spot-on, I myself feel that it has been one of my most powerful learning tools, though I've never heard of Youdao until now…you can rest assured that I will be checking it out ASAP! Until next time, keep learning!