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Mandarin Superstar


Fergus started his Chinese language learning journey in 2018.

He got his 10-week Prime Minister's Scholarship for Asia (PMSA) programme.He works at Export New Zealand.He is a member of the Asia New Zealand Foundation 25 to Watch,  and Leadership Network.

F Grenfell, Photo.jpg

1.When did you start learning Chinese?


I started learning Chinese in November 2018 when I arrived in Zhuhai, Guangdong, China for a 10-week Prime Minister’s Scholarship for Asia (PMSA) programme. 

2. What inspired you to take up the language?

Chinese language school was part of my PMSA experience in Zhuhai, so I didn’t exactly ‘choose’ to study the language early on. However, I had never learned a language before and found the challenge to be fun and really rewarding, particularly given I was living in China at the time. This inspired me to continue learning.

3. Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey?

During my time with the regional economic development agency, and later as economic development manager with a city council, I was able to use my limited Chinese language expertise and China contacts to help local businesses connect with their Chinese counterparts.

More importantly, I was able to form friendships in China and in New Zealand which continue independently of our shared business interests.

4. What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?


The most rewarding part of the experience is the surprise, and often delight, on Chinese people’s faces (in New Zealand and in China) when I can ask a question or say something in Mandarin.  

Learning Mandarin made me realise that Kiwis could learn a thing or two about showing respect and gratitude when tourists or migrants in New Zealand speak English, regardless of how ‘good’ that English is. A second language is a huge challenge, and in China, I was always praised for my efforts. It would be great to see more Kiwis do the same in reverse!

5.What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?


The biggest opportunity that has opened up for me has been a deeper cultural awareness, not only of China but of the rest of the world. Learning some Mandarin has afforded me a window into Chinese culture, which has made me realise the biases and misunderstandings I had. I am far more open-minded about all cultures because of learning some Mandarin, as I know that I will be misunderstanding a lot!

6.What do you like most about Chinese culture?

The complexity of Chinese culture is what I like the most. Unlike in New Zealand, what you see is almost certainly not what you get in China. There are so many layers and the meanings are never clear cut, you must really dig underneath the surface to comprehend things. 

7.What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?

I think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese because it opens up a new understanding of the world around you, is a heap of fun, is challenging, and is very rewarding. As the world becomes more globalised, some working knowledge of Mandarin will also be very handy.

8.Do you have any tips for those thinking of taking up the language?

Spend as much time as you can speaking the language, because this is where the learning actually happens. I learnt more in three months in China than I have in the 18 months since I returned, because I was forced to speak Mandarin every day. 

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