My name is Ella Haszard. I've grown up around many cultures and languages, and loved learning about every one from Japanese to Te Reo Maori, but none have interested me like Mandarin has. I started learning in my first year of College, and since then it's been my favourite subject and so much more. My parents are sick of me translating any word I see, and my school books are covered with character practice. I'm constantly making an effort to learn Mandarin, from apps and TV shows and even chinese social media! I attend cultural events like 春节, I've talked on my experience learning Mandarin at the National library, I've been a Chinese language associate for my school, and I'm always actively involved in any activities being run at school.
When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?
I started learning Chinese almost five years ago, in Year nine. Initially, I was hoping to be able to take Japanese in High School, to continue with my learning from Primary school. However, Wellington Girls’ doesn’t have a Japanese program so I decided to take up Chinese instead. It was definitely the right decision to make, as now I am utterly obsessed with learning Chinese!
Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?
I’ve really enjoyed Chinese ever since my first few classes, and as my knowledge of the language has grown, so has my love for it. What started as a few classes a week has turned into pretty much my whole life, I’m constantly translating and writing and memorising, using anything from dramas to music to apps on my phone. My favourite part is definitely writing characters, especially as it gives me something to do while waiting, and even sometimes cheekily do in other classes. There’s characters all over my school books. Learning Chinese in general I think has sharpened my brain, and enabled me to learn other languages quicker even if I’m only learning through TV shows.
What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?
There’s been so many opportunities that have arisen for me as a result of my Chinese speaking ability. For one, my trip to 鞍山, 辽宁 with AFS. Being able to experience China for myself, live with a Chinese family and use Chinese on a daily basis was such an amazing experience for me, and though it’s already been a year since I left, I haven’t stopped talking about it. I’ve been able to open up my options for after I finish school, too. I hope to be able to travel to Taiwan to learn mandarin, and major in Chinese language at University. I’d love to teach language in the future, something I likely wouldn’t have even thought about had I not learnt Chinese myself.
What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?
I’d say the attitudes and norms surrounding education is the most striking difference for me. In New Zealand I’d say the focus is on a student’s own path and what they as an individual like and are good at. There’s much less pressure put on grades(as a general rule), and much less time spent studying. As for China, I’ve got the impression that grades and success matter a great deal. Homework is a far bigger deal there, as are after-school academic activities. Where we might play football or join a club afterschool, many Chinese students are enrolled in English academies, dance classes and more, to the point where most of the week is filled up. Another difference would have to be the food. First of all, portion sizes are larger in China compared to New Zealand. As well as this, eating a Chinese meal means sitting together and sharing dishes, whereas a usual meal in New Zealand is pretty individual. Food is a very important part of any culture, and for Chinese culture I think it’s something that brings people together, it gives people time to catch up and bond which I really like.
Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of taking up the language?
I think learning Chinese, even just a little bit, is well worth the effort. It has the obvious gains of being able to communicate better with Chinese-speaking people, of which there are a lot, and gives you the chance to really connect with people you otherwise might not have been able to. It also opens you up to new things, whether that means trying new foods, having access to Chinese media(music, shows, etc.), or travelling! Chinese is often coined ‘the hardest language in the world’, and I think in some ways it definitely is. However, being that Chinese is a very different language to most others, there are some things that make it much easier to learn than other languages. For one, the grammar is super easy for the most part, and stringing together a simple sentence can be much easier than in other languages. The characters may be seen as the hardest part of the language to learn, but I think once you’ve got a grasp of them, they’re sometimes easier to remember than English words. Listening to native speakers and constant practice of speech and writing will mean your Chinese will be up to scratch in no time! If you’re up to a little challenge, I think anyone will really enjoy learning Chinese, and doing so will really benefit you in so many ways, even if you never get to visit a Chinese-speaking country.