Time in China: +1 year
Chinese Level: Intermediate (HSK4, 2 years)
Other Languages: English
GoEast Teacher: Clytie Yuan 袁家晟
Favorite Chinese Phrase/Word: verb + 死了(sǐ le) At work my boss would often say 打死你 (dǎ sǐ nǐ) which is like “beat you to death” [figuratively, not literally]. I also like 吓死我了 (xià sǐ wǒ le) or 饿死了 (è sǐ le). But I think the best is 烦死了 (fán sǐ le), like “so annoying that I die.”
Why did you start learning Chinese?
I actually didn’t have much interest in anything Asian-related all throughout high school. My town is very monocultural. So there weren’t very many Asian people in my high school. Then when I went to college in California, it was a very different environment for me. I just happened to take a general education class requirement thing. It was like a history class but it was the Chinese American experience, just a class about how Chinese immigrants came to the US and their contributions and things like that. Even though I’m not Chinese, it was like, “finally someone’s talking about Asian people for once in history.” After that class, I studied Asian studies and, as part of that, I had to take a certain amount of language classes. I started with Japanese and they had a Chinese class open at the same time so I enrolled in both and found that I liked Chinese more. The grammar’s easier and I just had a really good time in my Chinese classes in college — good environment, good people.
What was it like to go from the classroom to living in China?
in the beginning, I was really frustrated because I had forgotten a lot of what I already learned. All I could remember how to say was like, hello, my name is, I’m this many years old, I’m American. The only reason I like to learn Chinese is because I like to talk to people and build relationships. So I forced my coworkers to talk to me in Chinese, like, all the time and would just practice as much as I could. I listened to Chinese songs, watched shows, whatever I could do to just listen. There were a lot of embarrassing points but because I tried talking to more people, people were more willing to help me.
How do your coworkers help you practice conversation?
Some of my coworkers, they have the idea that foreigners don’t know how to speak Chinese so they’ll say everything twice, basically. But I had some coworkers who would see me try to say stuff in Chinese and then they would help me say it properly and then reply in Chinese. So after a while, you figure out who’s helpful and who’s not really helpful.
It depends what kind of things you want to practice. If you’re practicing basic stuff then [you can talk to] anybody, really. But if you want to practice getting to know people and using Chinese, you need to find coworkers or people near you that you can keep talking to. Cause if you build relationships with people, you’re not going to say the same thing over and over again. It’s really nice to get to learn peoples’ personalities and what they’re interested in and you can practice talking about peoples’ interests and hobbies and it goes from there.
What advice do you have to Chinese language learners?
One of the best things about being in Shanghai is that there are people from all over China here so you can practice Northern accents, Southern accents, whatever accents you want and get all the listening practice really. I would say, find people who you’re not similar with. The only reason I improved so much in the last year is because I found people who did not speak a lot of English and I put myself out there.