At the beginning of my second year at university, I got an email from the department administrator saying that all History students should be able to speak other languages and they would therefore pay for us to take courses at the Language Centre. I decided to take Chinese, as I’d enjoyed reading about Chinese history in my first year, and fancied something different to the French and German I already spoke. My Chinese teacher was an older lady from Taiwan, who insisted that we wrote characters beautifully and didn’t like us making jokes.
In third year I carried on with Chinese, with a different teacher, although he was also from Taiwan. I even wrote a poem in Chinese!
By the time I went back to uni to do my MA a year later, I’d forgotten a lot of Chinese and really struggled in my Chinese classes. My teacher was Song Laoshi, and he wore slippers to class and openly laughed at us. He was very keen on grammar and sometimes made borderline racist comments but we loved him. We also had another teacher who we fell out with spectacularly as she wouldn’t explain something to one of my classmates, who didn’t understand but wasn’t just being difficult. I spent many, many hours in the university library copying out characters but I found it really hard.
Since graduating from my MA I’ve been to China three times, and have taken a year’s worth of evening classes. I did a language exchange for a year or so too but ended up speaking English a lot.
However this year I’m moving to China. I’ve accepted a job at a school in Shanghai, starting in March. I’m panicking a little about my Chinese – I haven’t spoken it in so long!
There’s a standardised test run by the Chinese government, which has 6 levels. I am confident with all the vocab in level 1 and know most of level 2. So to focus the mind, I’ve entered the exam for level 2, which I’ll take in February.
I have two very useful apps on my phone – Pleco (a dictionary) and AnkiDroid (a tool for memorising information, which I’m using to drill vocab for the exam). I’m reasonably sure that by the time the exam comes round I’ll be fine with all of the vocabulary.
Who knows what my Chinese will be like by the end of the year! I’m hopeful that moving to China will be really helpful for my spoken Chinese, which is really poor thanks to spending so much time studying grammar. I’d also like to break some of my bad learning practices, namely my fear of making mistakes. It’s okay to get things wrong (must keep telling myself this…).