When I first came to China, I wasn’t very interested in learning Mandarin. My aims were to; live in a new country, experience something new, live away from my family, gain new working experience. All of these I’ve now done.
My first stint in China was doing my internship teaching. I suppose I choose this as it was only for one semester. It was to see if i’d enjoy China and like teaching. After that I went home for 1 month, then headed back out for full time teaching. So then I worked one year full time, teaching all ranges of students.
Then I met Rafa and like him, China started to really annoy me. I couldn’t order from a menu without pictures, I couldn’t understand anyone. Doing simple tasks like asking for directions is literally impossible. These were some reasons why we decided to take up studying Mandarin. Plus, my career path which I will (hopefully) end up in needs an extra language, so thats my biggest incentive.
So from working full time, 20 hours a week, to studying Mandarin in the morning and working 10 hours a week, to me, I much prefer the latter!
Now, I feel like I’m actually doing something worthwhile! I’m slowly picking up more Mandarin out on the streets. For example; we had to go to the police station so we could get a form filled out. The police man asked us in Chinese ‘were we here before?’ I understood some words in the sentence so I pieced it together. For me, that was such a huge achievement! Later, he asked another questions like ‘Do we live in the same place thats mentioned in the form.’ Again, I picked up the few words that I knew and understood.
Last March, we were at the station and he asked us questions and we didn’t understand any of them. So in 3 months we can see an improvement!
For me, I think it was a great choice to start learning Mandarin. I know some people may be confused with whether (if they are going to China) they should study or work in China, There’s no problem to work while studying, most if not all people do it. But for me, teaching full time was becoming an arduous job. My enjoyment of it was starting to wear, and It felt like all I did was work and work. There was no time to go on holidays or travel. Of course, you do get valuable experience from it. but apart from that, there’s nothing else to show whilst in China. I’m mad at myself that I kind of wasted that time only working and not studying. But I suppose it’s better late than never to realise this!
If you choose to study in China, usually the Uni can sort out your visa and they can get you a student visa. You can also work part time also. Or if you would rather work full time but would like to study Mandarin too, there are loads of tuition available from Chinese people at low rates. Some are even free because they want experience of teaching Mandarin.
I know people in Chengdu that say to me ‘aw I’m jealous you’re studying Mandarin, I wish I could study it’. I think, but you can… I know people can get into work mode; work the hours and get your wage and that’s your week. But you can study and work part time, then do private tutoring. It’s putting the effort into getting up in the morning, studying, then working that puts people off. It puts me off even thinking about it!
Anyway, private tutoring is great as you can pay quite a high price. The downfall though is that they can cancel at any time. So it’s not guaranteed money. You also need the contacts and networks to gain students. But this is a great way to earn money.
So for me, learning Mandarin has refreshed my take on China. Although it still drives me mad sometimes, one day I will conquer it, and they’ll be hearing no more 我听不懂。wo3 ting1 bu4 dong3 ‘I don’t understand’ from me!