M A N D A R I N   S U P E R S T A R

Andrew Wilford

Victoria University of Wellington

Age: 32

Based: Wellington, New Zealand

Proficiency: Upper Intermediate

Andrew works at the New Zealand Contemporary China Research Centre at Victoria University of Wellington.


Andrew started learning Chinese in 2005 when he travelled to Chengdu, a city in Sichuan province, where he taught English and studied Mandarin.

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


I started picking up Chinese after moving to China to teach English in 2005. Initially my primary motivation to learn was fueled by a desire to engage with new friends and gain a greater understanding of my surroundings. With time, this developed into a passion for learning more about Chinese history and culture.


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


Learning Mandarin has provided its fair share of challenges but has also proved equally rewarding. When travelling in other countries, Mandarin has been useful as the Chinese diasporic community is so dispersed. This has led to unexpectedly delightful conversations around the world!


What do you like most about Chinese culture?
 What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?


This is a difficult question to answer as there are so many things that I admire. Most notable would be the rich history, literary corpus, and philosophical foundation that underpin and inform modern Chinese culture. It is also challenging to make sweeping statements regarding cultural differences but something I noticed was differing attitudes to the role of elders in society and the importance of education.

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


My current role requires a foundation in Chinese language and culture so learning Mandarin has been extremely helpful for my work life. It has been similarly helpful in my personal life enabling me to communicate with my friends and family.


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


I have found it to be the single most rewarding experience of my life. It has enriched my understanding of the world and brought a fresh perspective to many of life’s big questions. It is undeniably challenging but anything worthwhile is. I would suggest that those thinking of taking up the language invest time in learning characters as they reinforce all the other aspects of the language like speaking.  I didn’t do this and have regretted it ever since!