Santiago on learning Chinese in Shanghai
Name: Santiago Robayo
Time in China: 7 weeks (out of 1 year)
Chinese Level: HSK2, I’m now learning HSK3
Other Languages: Spanish (native), English, Italian, French
GoEast Teachers: Stella Qiu 邱烨, and Ellie Liu 刘晓丹. Before I was taught by Myra Li 李璇 and Lilly Cheng 程垚.
Favorite Chinese phrase/word: 你行你上 (nǐ xíng nǐ shàng: if you can, do it)
Why did you decide to come study Chinese in Shanghai?
China is growing into a superpower and becoming more important. Its expanding outwards, not inwards, both with their economy and culture, like Chinese companies started buying companies abroad. And the Chinese language itself is very important for doing business, even outside of China. At some point I will do business with somebody from China and I think it’d be better and more intimate and fluid to understand someone else if you can talk to them directly in their mother tongue, instead of using an interpreter.
So I figured that I better Chinese sooner rather than later. That’s why I’m here in China: for the language and all that comes with it.
Had you studied any Chinese before you came to Shanghai?
Sort of, but it was really bad, like university elective courses always are. I had like two semesters, but it’s totally different at GoEast. Of course, I still struggle with the tones, it’s a pain in the ass, but I’m super happy here, I’m actually learning and it’s super cool.
How is it going?
I learn everyday and it’s great. I went through HSK1, 2 and 3 — and I’m now learning characters too. I learn 36 character a day and it’s amazing. I’m looking forward to writing.
How is the Mandarin Chinese language perceived in Colombia?
There’s a big Chinese community, but there’s not really a Chinatown in Bogotá, or I havent find it. But I lived a few years in Honduras, and there is a Chinatown there.
As a language, we do know it’s extremely hard to learn, if not impossible. We have an expression that if you can’t understand someone, you say “Are you speaking Chinese?!”
What other languages do you know?
I knew the French language but I forgot most, and I still know Italian — I learned it during an intensive two-month course in Colombia before going to university. Its very similar to the Spanish language so that helps. So like I’m not perfect at using verbs or grammar, but I can talk and understand basic stuff.
So what’s it like to be in China and learning the Mandarin Chinese language?
It’s so cool. I’ve always believed that if you want to learn a language you have live in the country, for full immersion. There’s no alternative. Even if you learn it in another place, it’s not the same. Here you dive in and you have to use it, and you hear it all the time around you. Your innate survival instinct kicks in.
Are you able to speak Chinese outside of the classroom?
Not a full conversation, but I can ask simple things and I can answer. So for instance when we learned to talk about distance, like from your house to your job, so I spoke to my trainer at the gym, and she fully understood! How long, which way I travel, which distance. All in Chinese! It was such a great feeling. Little by little I can add more to the conversation. These things make you feel the progress.
What advice do you have for people who are new to learning Chinese or considering learning Chinese?
My advice would be you have to give it your all. Cause for example, for me as a native Spanish speaker, I could improvise on Italian, basically. But Chinese is so alien, you cannot read it or understand the sounds. If you don’t know, you just don’t know how to pronounce it. There’s just no way. So you have to give it your all.
What are you looking forward to learning?
When I got here, my Spanish roommate helped me set up my phone — and I was just astounded how he was just talking with a Chinese person, for like 30 minutes. It was gorgeous. I had never seen something so gorgeous. And he’s been here like, I think, a year. He’s going take HSK5 so he’s like in another league.
I can’t wait to like hold a conversation with anyone. Damn. Even if it’s just asking the time of day, or asking what they would like to eat. A goal I set myself is that I want to hold a ten-minute conversation with someone. That would be amazing, I would feel so happy.