When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?
I started back in 2012 when I originally picked up the 101 & 102 courses at uni purely out of interest, but I found learning Chinese both fascinating and very rewarding, so it quickly became one of my majors.
Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?
Since starting at university a whole other world has opened up to me - from scholarships that took me to China - to work opportunities that kept me there. But perhaps the most memorable experience for me was being selected to join a one month Chinese reality TV competition to be a Chinese TV anchor - I was the only foreigner there - and this was just one of many experiences I would never have had if I hadn't learnt Mandarin and been to China.
What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?
Beyond all the social opportunities of meeting so many dynamic interesting people on my language learning journey, many of whom have become good friends, Chinese has also been a central element of my career. I worked in sales in Shanghai for one of the world's largest F&B companies before coming back home and starting a business with my partner that supported New Zealand tourism operators to engage with Chinese tourists. I would not have been able to do either of these without speaking Mandarin.
The ability to translate Chinese comics also meant I've been able to have lots of fun and take freelance work to travel at key transition periods in my life.
I'm sure learning Chinese and all the international experience that has come from that is also a key reason why I'm now able to work for the Asia New Zealand Foundation - Te Whītau Tūhono to support more New Zealanders to build the knowledge, networks and confidence to thrive in Asia.
I've discovered that the further in my career I am, the more knowing Chinese helps - and equally aware the earlier you start learning the easier it is - not because of learning speed but because of the amount of time you can dedicate to it.
What do you like most about the Chinese culture?
I love how people socialize in China - whether young or old everyone comes together over food - dinner is not a 15 minute gobble it down kinda thing, but an experience that lasts as long as the conversation with vast arrays of different food that keeps coming and coming.
What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?
Speed - when it comes to business if you want something done in China it takes hours not weeks.
On a more social level - in NZ everyone is connected so you don't often feel like a stranger - whereas in China due to the size - nobody has the time to know who everyone is and what everyone's up to. What this means is that it can be slower to connect with people - but when you do connect you'll find them willing to bend over backward to help you in whatever way they can.
Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of taking up the language?
It is a window into another world - with a history and a culture than have been evolving for over 5000 years, by learning Chinese you have access to this world and the around 1.4 billion people that live in that world.
It is also a super satisfying language to learn - the first time you pick up a page of characters and you can get something more than 'squiggly lines' from it you will be so stoked with yourself. The same is true from the random conversation you have at the market or a restaurant - once you can speak it you'll find it crop up everywhere.
For those that want to learn there are so many technological innovations now:
Pleco - helps you figure out what characters mean that you don't know
iTalki - you can book 1 on 1 lessons for ridiculous cheap prices
Anki - spaced repetition flashcard app means you can learn faster and forget less.
The one thing I would recommend is to spend some time learning the sounds/tones that make up Mandarin. It will make your learning journey that much more satisfying.