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Briar Topp

When and why did you start learning Chinese?

I chose to study Chinese in my first year of high school because I had recently been
exposed for the first to learning—and more importantly, using—a foreign language
when my mum took me WWOOFing in Italy. (She’s a cool mum!) That experience
made me realise that I loved learning and using other languages. Chinese became my
main focus after being awarded a Language Immersion Award to go on exchange to
Changde in Hunan Province for half of my year 13, which was then followed by a
year-long university exchange to Dalian in Liaoning Province on a Prime Minister’s
Scholarship for Asia.

What is the best thing about learning Chinese?

Making friends, being able to read the menu and ordering the best dishes for friends
and family, and going to KTV (karaoke)!

What opportunities have you gained because of your Chinese learning?

Nearly every door that has opened in my career has been partially due to my
proficiency in Mandarin and my understanding and love of the culture. Here are a
- Tour Guide in a historic home – I had to learn all sorts of new vocabulary in
Mandarin, such as “candlestick” and “Shabbat.”
- Bus Tour Guide – this had me up late reciting to myself in Mandarin our local
New Zealand history in hotel mirrors.
- China-Germany Business Startup Accelerator – when living in Berlin, I had to
try speak three languages in the workplace!
- Financial Investment firm – assisting with putting on events for Chinese
clients and getting up the front to introduce the sessions in Mandarin.
- Chinese teacher – I even taught basic Mandarin, where my advantage of
having learned Chinese helped me explain features of the language.

What would you say to other Kiwis who are thinking about learning Chinese?

It’s so worthwhile, whatever your motivations. China is huge and complex, but the
people are some of the nicest and most hospitable I have ever met.
- Find a language exchange partner. When I was in high school and university I
connected with language exchange partners and to this day we’re still great
- Get involved in some of the many interesting organisations that exist, from
Sister Cities to NZCFS, NZCTA, NZ China Council and many more.
- Listen to language learning podcasts on your commute. My favourite one has
levels ranging from beginner to advanced and is called 听故事说中文 Learn
Chinese through Stories.
- Never stop learning! My colleagues speak Cantonese, so I’ve started learning
yup di guangdongwa—a little Cantonese—as well.

Do you have a favourite Chinese word or expression? Why do you like it?

慢走 Màn zǒu literally means, “slow go.” You’ll hear Chinese this phrase as you leave
shops, restaurants, and even as you leave your friends’ homes. It could be translated
as, “take care.” I especially like this phrase because it’s a little reminder that in this
crazy, fast-paced world we live in, it’s important to take your time and enjoy the
journey, not just the destination.
谢谢, 慢走. Xiexie, màn zǒu.

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