When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?

In 1998 I was able to learn Chinese as an adult through my work, minister of foreign affairs, after a really unsatisfying experience in China in 1995.

Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?

I first went to China in 1995, and I crossed China all the way from Pakistan border to Shanghai, speaking no Chinese. It was a really unsatisfying experience to be honest. I couldn’t break the ice with local people, I couldn’t understand how to get around, and I thought everyone was very unfriendly.  

Fast forward a few years, I was able to learn Chinese as an adult through my work, Minister of Foreign Affairs, and return to China where I spent 11 years living there which was a completely different experience. 

What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?

Further employment

What do you like most about the Chinese culture? 

Its diversity, the warmth and friendship experience of the people, even if you can only speak a few words of Chinese. And of course, the ease of travelling around when you can understand a few characters made the whole experience was completely different. 

What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?

Length of history

Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of taking up the language?

My encouragement is to study Chinese if you can, even if it’s just a couple of words.  What I've found with Chinese language is that a lot of the really difficult parts are right at the start. Learning the tones, and learning how to read and write the characters. Once you’ve got those methods under control, the rest of Chinese can be really easy. The grammar is regular, pronunciation is regular. The vowel sounds are very similar to the vowel sounds in Te Reo Māori for example, so I think Kiwis are a step ahead already when it comes to speaking Chinese.