Why study Chinese?


Ever since I was young, I’ve had an interest in Chinese language and culture. However, it’s only been within the last year that I’ve actually taken the plunge and started learning Mandarin. So far I’ve just been doing it in my spare time, but progress has been slow.

Why am I choosing to study Mandarin? Many reasons!

一 It’s only fair

Having been lucky enough to learn English as a first language, I could get by without learning another. This is unfair to the billions of other people who are burdened with learning our popular but bizarre language. If they have to learn English, I should have to learn something else.

二 It’s practical

There are a lot of Mandarin-speaking people. More specifically, Australia has a large population of Chinese-speaking people. In our 2011 census Mandarin overtook Italian to become the second most popular language spoken at home (behind English, obviously — and Cantonese was in fifth place). Living in Sydney, Australia’s largest city, I’m surrounded by lovely Chinese people and, in my experience, they are delighted to see someone putting in effort to learn their language and connect with them.

三 It’s different

I studied German for 3 years in high school and quite enjoyed it, although I did feel like I was cheating a bit because English and German are closely related. Mandarin shares no perceivable common ancestry to English. The two main differentiators being that it’s a tonal language and the writing system uses logograms instead of a phonetic alphabet. I get the feeling that if I can learn Mandarin, I can learn any language.

四 It’s standardised

My very first Chinese friend was a Hong Konger who spoke Cantonese, so I initially looked into learning this. Unfortunately the more I looked into it, the more it seemed like a risky choice. Unlike Mandarin, the Cantonese dialect is not well standardised, and learning resources are much more difficult to come by. Also, many Cantonese speakers know some Mandarin anyway.

五 It’s special

No one really expects a westerner to be able to speak Mandarin (in Australia, at least). This has the added benefit of people being quite prepared and understanding of mistakes 🙂 Even as a white person, I find it quite amazing to see us speaking it fluently. Perhaps the best-known Chinese-speaking westerner is Mark Rowswell (Dashan / 大山). Watch him go!

Over the last year I’ve been studying with a textbook I bought on a friend’s recommendation and some apps I downloaded to my phone. Some Chinese friends at work have also been encouraging and helping me along the way.

This year I’m hoping to pick up the pace. My girlfriend pre-paid for some one-on-one Mandarin lessons for me as a birthday gift and this post from Hacking Chinese has inspired me to focus on writing more. My first goal is to be able to order food and maintain very basic conversation, but I definitely have my work cut out for me there!

This blog will be used to share my experiences on this journey, including the tools I use and the experiences I have along the way. Hopefully it ends up being educational (or at least entertaining) for some people out there!


2 thoughts on “Why study Chinese?

  1. Dr Jennifer Grant, PhD ANU 1990 says:

    I graduated with Hons at ANU in Chinese the year before Kevin R.

    For thirty-five years I have been a white person speaking and understanding Mandarin and also literate in Chinese. Some of my career since has included the teaching of Chinese to adults and children in informal and formal settings. Is Practical Chinese Reader as useful as you had hoped? If not I will recommend another book with audio.

    • mike says:

      Wow, thanks for reading!

      I’ve found the New Practical Chinese Reader (NPCR) to be quite good. Once you get up to about half way through Book 1 you really do need a teacher to help explain a few things that it tends to gloss over though (mainly grammar). I haven’t felt the need to try other textbooks (although obviously textbooks are only a small piece of the puzzle).

      Since NPCR is so popular, there are added benefits to using it. For example, YouTube videos of the conversations in the book and pre-made decks for major spaced-repetition tools like Anki and Skritter.

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