LSBU staff member takes on challenge to learn Mandarin

"The Chinese economy is one of the fastest growing in the world," says Chob, who works in ICT support for LSBU. "They have a well-developed space programme, and even David Beckham is trying to contribute to the development of Chinese football, which shows what a huge and important market it is to the west. Anyone who wants to see the future should look at what China is doing now."

Challenging yet rewarding

Chob is enrolled on a level 3 HSK programme (Chinese language proficiency test preparation), and has found the experience of learning a new language to be challenging, yet hugely rewarding. "I view my course at the Confucius Institute as opening a door to a long, deep history and culture," he explains. "I'd always been interested in Chinese language and culture, but it was the Institute's Mandarin courses that gave me the chance to start learning. That said, with over 4,000 years of tradition behind it, I could not claim to have even started to scratch the surface of Chinese culture!"

Chob is no stranger to learning languages, having studied French to 'O'Level (equivalent to GCSE) and teaching himself German from books and tapes. He has even learned a little Welsh in the past, but Mandarin has proven to be a much tougher language to master.

Start learning early

Despite the difficulty of learning the language, Chob has no regrets about taking on such a challenge, and encourages others to start learning the language as early as possible in life. "It takes a good few years to learn to speak Mandarin well, and even longer to sound like a native speaker. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't start!"

He was awe-struck when he recently asked a little girl how old she was in broken Chinese and she replied in perfect English "I am 8 years old". He can't help feeling that in 10 years' time, she will be speaking English like a native speaker while his Mandarin will still be stuck in the slow lane.

"The tones of the language are something I find quite hard," he admits. "Getting the tone wrong can result in a totally different word. For example, when trying to buy a cold drink I used the wrong tone – even though the word was the correct one. Instead of a cold drink, it would seem I asked for a cold face, which confused the shopkeeper somewhat!"

Bringing words to life

Such nuances can take time to learn, but Chob is quick to praise the work of the Confucius Institute, where the passion for Chinese culture is ever-present in the syllabus. Chob find his teacher brings the words to life by explaining how they have evolved from ancient times to become traditional shapes, then becoming the simplified characters used today.

It's an incredible language to learn, however, and such an integral part of Chinese culture that Chob is happy to maintain the hard work needed to increase his understanding of Mandarin. "I may be a beginner in Mandarin," he explains, "but I can't think of any other languages where you can write beautiful poems in just four lines, or using so few characters."


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