My Chinese Language Learning Experience

My Chinese learning experience

18months ago I was useless at languages. I’d taken French at GCSE but never really understood much and hadn’t used it since I turned 16. Now I’m almost at the end of my first year of a Chinese Degree. I’d never have believed this was possible just a few years ago.

There are many ways to learn a language and below I just share my experience. It may not be for everyone but I have found this to be a great way to study Chinese, achieving credits towards a degree, alongside working full time and for free!

Why I wanted to learn a language

As I travelled more independently as an adult, my ignorance of other languages and reliance on others speaking English made me really want to learn. After trying Spanish for a while, I decided European languages weren’t my thing, but set myself a goal of reaching conversational level in SOME other language during my lifetime!

Taipei 101 view from Elephant Mountain (cropped)
Lee’s regular trips to Taiwan sparked our interest in learning Chinese.

5 reasons to learn Chinese

Learn chinese phrases
  1. It’s the language with the most native speakers in the world, 1.3 billion people! Chinese speakers are scattered all over the world, so it isn’t only China where it’s useful.
  2. Chinese actually isn’t as hard as you might think (I have certainly found it EASIER and more interesting than Spanish and French). It has no tenses, no genders, no cases and simple grammar. The hardest part is the characters and the fact they’re so different to phonetic languages. Once you get over this, the rest is (relatively) easy!
  3. The opportunities are endless: China is opening up like never before, and the Chinese are facilitating business deals all over the world. Plus, its handy when visiting your local China town or Chinese restaurant!

4. It’s easier to learn than ever before, with online courses and apps making Chinese easily accessible from anywhere.

5. Learning a language is great for brain development, plus it’s a great way to impress friends and family.

Where my Chinese began…

When my husband started working closely with a Taiwanese firm and making regular trips to Taipei, he thought it would be useful to learn some basic Chinese. We were living in Manchester at the time, so enrolled with The Confucius Institute at Manchester University on their Introduction to Conversational Chinese evening course. This was a great introduction to the language, led by a native Chinese speaker and only cost £160. The class was small, around 10 students, and we met on Wednesday evenings after work for two hours. On a personal level, those 10 weeks turned out to be eventful, as we decided to move closer to family and Lee found and then started a new job in Nottingham. As a result, Lee was unable to finish the course, but I was hooked!

Apps are great for self-study

Duolingo app logo

After the 10-week introductory course I was adament I would not stop learning Chinese, so used Duolingo (one of my top-5 travelling apps) regularly. Although not as interactive as an in-person class, the app is so convinient and a great way to regularly practice lots of languages. It’s also useful if you’re going to a new country for the first time as a way to pick up some basics in only a few sessions. The app makes language learning into a game, where you earn reward points (lingots) for the number of lessons you complete successfully. It can get quite addictive!

A Chinese Degree (100% online and for free)

Eventually, I realised that if I really wanted to learn more, I needed a bit more structure. Whilst researching online, I came across courses held 100% online by Dalarna University in Sweden. They offer courses with degree credits and best of all…. its completely FREE for EU citizens (thankfully this still includes Brits for now, although what happens from 2021 is not yet confirmed). Students can sign up for as many, or few courses as they like each semester and the courses are held 100% online, through zoom.

I signed up in May 2019 for courses starting in September and my first year experience has been fantastic! As I already had some knowledge I did 37.5 credits in my first semester – more than a full time timetable – but it wasn’t too much and I was still able to complete each course along side working full time. This allowed me to do just 22.5 credits in my second semester, focussing on Chinese Character historical development and Business Chinese. There has definitely been an increase in the difficulty level but I find that i’m learning so much, so quickly.

Dalarna Online Portal
Material is accessed and assignments submitted via the University’s online ‘Learn’ portal

100% Online teaching

Classes have at most 20 students and the level of participation varies between teachers. Some give lectures where you just listen, others like you to engage throughout via camea and microphone. There is also homework set each work which is submitted online. The teachers are all fluent and all but one are native Chinese speakers. I plan on continuing for now, but even if I don’t complete the full degree, I’ve still gained some really good Chinese language experience.

If you’re interested in taking this course, or others such as Italian, Japanese or Portugese you can see the courses available on the Dalarna University website. Just be sure to filter the ‘Teaching Form’ to ‘Distance’. Other Swedish universities also offer free, distance courses though I can’t speak from personal experience on how good they are. The full list of courses can be searched at Universityadmissions.se, which is also where you’ll need to apply if you choose to take a course (this site is equivilent to UCAS in the UK).

I’ve heard of HSK, what about that?

HSK are the official Chinese language exams. There are six levels in total that can be roughly compared to the European Language Framework i.e HSK1 = A1, HSK2 = A2, HSK3 = B1 etc. Each level assesses your reading and listening skills. From level 3, writing is also tested. The number of words you’re required to know for each level doubles; so HSK1 tests your knowledge on only 150 words, HSK2 300, HSK3 600 and so on.

Some institutions and online providers do offer HSK specific courses, though I have found that just by studying Chinese as I am, I am natuarally moving up the levels.

I sat my HSK1 in March 2019 and managed to get full marks (full disclosure, the exam is not that difficult as tests only 150 words). Then I took my HSK2 in May 2019. Hopefully i’ll take my HSK3 later this year, if they’re reinstated after Coronavirus lockdown!

Other tips?

Aside from the structured university courses, I am also trying to read Chinese stories and watch Chinese TV, with English subtitles, to improve my learning. Hopefully I’ll keep progressing and realise my aim of being able to have conversations easily with native speakers.

Do you have any tips for language learning? Let me know in the comments.

5 reasons to learn chinese during lockdown

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