When and why did you start learning Chinese?
I started learning Chinese in 2017, during my first year at Otago University. I didn’t really know anything about China at the time and I think it came from a place of curiosity and love of learning languages. I had loved studying Japanese at high school and the idea of learning a new and very different language excited me. Little did I know how deciding to study Mandarin would impact my life. I was overwhelmed by the complexity, uniqueness, difficulty and wonder of the language in the best possible way. As I fully immersed myself in the pursuit of learning Mandarin, it became an extremely rewarding and meaningful part of my life.
What is the best thing about learning Chinese?
My favourite thing about learning Chinese has been the people I have been able to interact with and more importantly connect with in a way that is comfortable for them. I love being able to hear the stories of Chinese people, learn about their way of life, and see the world through their lens, especially as it is very different from our life and culture in New Zealand. I have only ever received an extremely warm, compassionate and friendly response when I try to speak Chinese. Throughout my journey learning Chinese, it feels like a whole new, very different world was opened in front of me. When I travelled through China, my limited Chinese not only felt like my main source of survival, but it was the reason I was able to connect with people, go to the places and have the experiences I did. The whole adventure was completely different and so much richer because I knew some Chinese language.
In terms of the language itself, I love its uniqueness, diversity and the immeasurable scope of the language in relation to the characters, meaning, history and culture. Also, the relatively simple grammar is a bonus and nice reward for learning all those characters.
What opportunities have you gained because of your Chinese learning?
The best opportunities have been the people I have met, and the places I have been able to travel to that I would not have been able to without knowing some Chinese.
Other fantastic opportunities include:
- University Summer School exchange in Shanghai.
- Independent backpacking in China for 1 month.
- Trip to Northern China for a Cross country ski event.
- Work at a retail shop in New Zealand where Chinese was the main language spoken.
- Helping out with the Senior Chinese group in Dunedin.
- A Chinese tutor for first year university students
- Entering the NZ Chinese essay competition and HSK proficiency test
I also very fondly remember the many opportunities I got from studying Chinese with a small, fun and united group at Otago University. We did assignments with Chinese speaking people in the community, went on cultural excursions and had a lot of fun on the journey together.
What would you say to other Kiwis who are thinking about learning Chinese?
Go for it!! Your mind will expand and you will gain opportunities and experiences that will enrich your life.
Chinese people, language and culture can easily be very misunderstood. Through learning the language you will have the opportunity to connect with Chinese people and learn about their very unique and different way of life. It will give you insight into a country with a diverse and very fascinating culture and history, which could change the way you think and treat others. It is cliché, but even a few words goes such a long way and Chinese people will be absolutely stoked when they see you show interest in their language and culture.
If you want to learn the language more seriously, I would encourage people to have an open mind and stick at it; it is not easy but that makes it even more rewarding. Studying Chinese at a school or university is also a fantastic way to learn the language and can open further opportunities. My experience studying Chinese at Otago University was one of the best of my life so far and I would recommend it to anyone!
Do you have a favourite Chinese word or expression? Why do you like it?
我习惯了(Wǒ xíguàn le) I am used to it
When I went backpacking in China it was the beginning of winter and was starting to get cold, especially in Ningxia, where it was around -13 degrees when I visited. I wore shorts for the majority of my trip and every day would get asked more times than I could count 你冷吗？(are you cold?). Every time I would say 不冷，习惯了！(I’m not cold, I am used to it) and we would both laugh. Sometimes I would say it more than 30 times a day.
A close second is 请帮助我 (Qǐng bāngzhù wǒ) please help me!
There were many situations where I was in a real pickle and I would ask someone 请帮助我. Chinese people are so kind and gracious, they helped me every time. This phrase brings back many memories.