Interview With a Chinese Learner

Thought I was going to say  with a Vampire, right? Alright, that's admittedly a bad joke, even if you get the reference. Moving on…

Hey everyone, today I am bringing you the first article in a series of articles that I will be posting. I'll be interviewing other Chinese learners over the next few weeks, and getting to know a little more about what makes them "tick" as students of Chinese, so to speak. I am a firm believer, that no matter how deep you go into studying a subject, be it martial arts, language, engineering…(you get the point!), there is always something to be learned and some insight to be gained. This is especially true when we share with others, as everyone has a different thought process, and perhaps listening to them for a bit will help you to further your own understanding.

On that note, I have recently interviewed the talented and intelligent Swedish-born Olle Linge, who currently resides in Taipei, Taiwan and like myself, is a Chinese fanatic! I also thought it was really cool that we share another interest besides Chinese language: I myself started my martial arts journey with the study of Taijiquan. Granted, I had already been living in Taiwan for over a year, and had already learned Mandarin to a decent level, but taking Taichi lessons, taught in Chinese no-less, really pushed me off the deep-end with  respects to my fascination for Chinese culture. Keep reading below for the full interview. Also, be sure to check out Olle's website for more excelent articles. Enjoy!

\"螢幕快照Q: What Made you decide to learn Chinese?

It wasn't a decision really, it was more like a gradual change from thinking that Chinese looked interesting to being immersed in a master's program taught entirely in Chinese. The reason I became interested in the first place is also something of a mystery, but it's definitely related to practising Taijiquan and through that becoming interested in Chinese philosophy.

Q:How long have you been a student of Chinese, and how long did it take you to become conversational?

I've studied for about seven years, but language learning should probably be counted in hours. I would say around four of those years were really full-time, the rest of the time I was busy with other things as well. The answer to the second question depends on what you mean by “conversational”, but I didn't speak much Chinese before I moved to Taiwan. That was about one year after I started, so becoming conversational took perhaps a year and a few months.

Q:What was your biggest challenge learning Chinese? And what came easiest to you?

The biggest challenge was (and still is) the seemingly infinite variety of the Chinese language (and I don't specifically mean other dialects than Mandarin or classical Chinese here). There are words for everything, usually several of them, and trying to figure out the differences and understanding them when spoken without clear context is really challenging.

I don't think anything came particularly easy for me, but I suppose I got basic pronunciation down pretty quickly. However, perfecting pronunciation in a foreign language is a lifelong process and I'm still working on it. You can listen to an interview with me on Language is Culture where I speak more about pronunciation.

Q:What advice would you give to our readers who are just embarking on their journey with Chinese?

I have written many, many articles aimed at beginners, so that's not something I can easily summarise here. If you want a summary, I have selected seven pieces of advice that I find absolutely crucial for beginners here. If forced to choose, I would say that avoiding perfectionism is the most important advice, simply because it applies to so many different areas and is overlooked by many ambitious learners. If you study Chinese in your home country, you should also start looking for extra-curricular ways of learning from day one.

Q:Do you have a favorite Chinese phrase? If so, what is it and why?

I have a penchant for adding fragments of English while still retaining Chinese syntax and/or morphology, so I like phrases like “OOK” and so on. I also like sentences where Chinese people habitually include incorrectly inflected English words, such as “她很fashion”. Note that if you're learning Chinese, don't take this as a call to pepper your sentences with English, listen to what people actually say and go with that. Don't invent your own hybrid sentences.

Q:What's your one biggest "hack" for learning Chinese?

I've written more than two hundred articles about how to hack Chinese, so it's really hard to pick just one hack. However, if I could choose one particular hack that I could travel back in time and teach myself, it would probably be using phonetic components to hack the pronunciation and writing of Chinese characters. I think most attentive and serious students find this out sooner or later, but way too many students think that meaning in Chinese characters comes from combining pictures of objects with each other, which of course isn't true for a huge majority of characters.