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Wilson Chau

When and why did you start learning Chinese?

Chinese languages is a big part of who I am. Cantonese is part of my Hong Kong heritage inherited from speaking to my parents at home since arriving to NZ at the age of two. I picked up Mandarin when I first taught English in northern China in 2008 while I was a university student. I subsequently took classes as part of my University of Auckland studies. I have been able to continue to build and practice my Mandarin through language training provided as part of my career in the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

What is the best thing about learning Chinese?

The best thing about learning and using Chinese languages is discovering more about the cultural diversity, nuances and differences within China and among Chinese speakers. A lot of cultural subtleties and significance can't be picked up unless I was able to listen or read the language. Particularly all the more important now in a digital age, when knowing Chinese can be an advantage in understanding Chinese memes and what's trending on Chinese social media.

What opportunities have you gained because of your Chinese learning?

Investing in learning and maintaining Chinese languages has opened many doors for me. It has been such an asset in my career with the NZ Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, through which I have the privilege to be posted to the Consulate-General in Shanghai. My ability to communicate in Chinese languages here in China as well as elsewhere around the world has allowed me to form friendships and partnerships with individuals who I wouldn't otherwise be able to approach without the language skills.

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

Seize the opportunities to learn Chinese languages. There are a lot of opportunities in NZ as well as abroad, including a wide range of scholarships. In addition to Mandarin, there are advantages to learning a dialect. For example, if you have an interest in a particular region of China, why not give that region's dialect a go while you're learning Mandarin? A great way to build multilingual capability (taking advantage of a lot of commonalities grammar and vocabulary wise between dialects) while at the same time developing a much deeper understanding of that specific region's people and culture.

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

青出于蓝而胜于蓝 is one of my favourite idioms. It describes a students who surpass/excels their teachers. I think it is highly relevant today, where I think the next generation (those currently learning Chinese or those interested in learning Chinese) will take Aotearoa's use of and investment in Chinese languages to a whole new level, hopefully above and beyond what my generation/cohort have accomplished. I certainly want my children to surpass me in their ability to communicate in Cantonese and Mandarin.

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