When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?
I began learning Chinese in high school. I’m half Chinese, and the main attraction for me was to learn more about my culture and family history. Although my grandad, or 外公 in Mandarin, speaks English, he is also proficient in Mandarin. I thought it would be pretty awesome to be able to communicate with him using Mandarin as well as English.
Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?
I really enjoyed learning Chinese at high school, so decided to continue my studies at university. I’m now in my final year of university but finished up my Chinese studies at the end of last year. Overall, I have had a really positive experience learning Chinese. I will admit that I did find it a bit challenging through COVID as we transitioned to online learning. I’ve found speaking to be the hardest aspect of learning Chinese, and definitely missed the benefits of face-to-face interaction and Chinese conversation opportunities. The most rewarding part about learning Chinese has been being able to communicate in Mandarin with my 外公。 Although we could have the same conversation in English, it’s really special to me to be able to use Mandarin and for him to see that I have an interest in my Chinese heritage. I also study economics, so learning Chinese has provided me with something completely different to learn, which although has been challenging it has also been quite refreshing.
What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?
When I was in year 12 my mum and I went to Chengdu in southwest China, and that was a really eye-opening experience. It was great to be able to use and test out my Chinese abilities with native speakers, and to experience life in China and Chinese culture first-hand. There are also lots of opportunities through education providers. I was looking forward to doing an exchange while at university but COVID disrupted that. Hopefully in the next few years opportunities like these will be back up and running. My interest in Chinese pairs quite well with my economics, and I’m hoping that there might be some future opportunities in that space. I’ve found it a bit tricky so far as there is not a clear path as a graduate to how you can use your Chinese skills, but that is something that I’m still trying to figure out.
What do you like most about the Chinese culture?
Loyalty is a key value which is prominent throughout Chinese culture, which I admire as it encourages supporting and caring for family and friends.
What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?
One of the biggest differences between Chinese and New Zealand culture is that Chinese society generally places more importance on respect, in particular respecting elders. As a result there can be more of a social hierarchy in Chinese culture, whereas this is not observed as much in Kiwi culture.
Why do you think other New Zealanders should learn Chinese? Do you have any tips for anyone thinking of taking up the language?
Chinese is a pretty useful language to learn as it is so widely spoken, and learning Chinese will help you gain a better understanding around one of the most globally prominent countries. Learning Chinese has opened my eyes to different people and cultures (not just Chinese culture), and has helped me to gain a better understanding of people's experiences and differences. My key tip would be to take up any opportunity to practice speaking Chinese. I know it is something that I naturally shy away from as I find it difficult, but speaking is key to communicating.