When did you start learning Chinese? What inspired you to take up the language?
I started learning in 1994 when I began a BA in Mandarin at Victoria University. I had just arrived back in NZ after completing a student exchange to Brazil, and having learned Portuguese really felt I wanted to try an Asian language. I didn't know much about China at the time but it seemed really interesting, so pretty much on this basis began my Mandarin journey.
Tell us about your Chinese language learning journey? What has been the most unexpected or rewarding part of the experience?
The most rewarding aspect is being able to communicate with older Chinese people who haven't learnt English. It just opens up another world to be able to communicate with people who have lived really different lives. Also finding out about different aspects of Chinese culture and being able to speak with practitioners of different arts is really rewarding.
What opportunities have opened up for you as a result of your Chinese speaking ability?
I've had three different jobs in my life that have come around because of my language ability, so I've been fortunate in that regard. I didn't learn Chinese in order to find jobs; however, I simply followed an interest and one thing led to another... My current employment at the China Cultural Center in Wellington has been great for improving my language ability, learning more about aspects of Chinese culture I never knew about before (in particular intangible cultural heritage, and China's many UNESCO sites), and meeting the wider Chinese community in NZ.
What do you like most about the Chinese culture?
I love Chinese food and hospitality.
What are the most striking differences between Chinese and Kiwi culture?
I'm really struggling with this one, I'm not sure! I think people are people, there are all kinds of Chinese and NZ'ers, so it feels impossible to generalize.
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 an amazing language to learn, and particularly given the length and richness of Chinese culture it can really be a lifelong journey. Tips for those interested in learning are the same for learning any foreign language - immersion is best! I suppose any new language learner is faced with whether to just learn spoken Chinese and/or characters. My personal recommendation if you're going to just learn spoken Chinese is to also gain an understanding of characters since it will help fuel your interest, and therefore hopefully also your degree of dedication!