chinese learner interview series beatrix massig

Lessons in Learning Chinese: Beatrix Massig

This week we feature Beatrix Massig from Germany who’s been studying Mandarin and law. Not only studying in China but traveling all around China and Taiwan, she offers some great tips and funny stories!

In her own words:

My name is Beatrix Massig or 马贝雅, I am 27 and originally from a small town in Southern Germany. I live in Berlin, where I currently work as a law clerk (Referendarin) at the Berlin district court in order to qualify for the German bar. 

How long have you been studying Chinese?  In what context?  For what purpose?

I have always loved foreign languages. Despite enjoying learning English, French and Latin, I felt like I wanted to learn a non-European foreign language in high school. Fascinated by the characters, I opted for Chinese. I took Chinese courses at my home town’s “Volkshochschule” (a kind of government-funded adult education center) for a year and self studied with a tutor for another two.

During that time, I participated in a federal competiton for high school students who had just started learning Chinese and won a 6-week language course at Beijing Language and Culture University in the summer of 2004. It was an amazing experience, that made me spend more time in China, practice with language partners and study Chinese law at Renmin University. After returning from Beijing in February 2008, I gradually got busier with law school and my Chinese started to slip away until I finished my Masters in 2012 and decided to go back to China! This time I attended a 4 week language class and traveled across China and Taiwan for two months. During this time, all the Chinese I forgot came back to me and I felt more motivated than ever to continue.  Now, I regularly read Chinese books and listen to Taiwanese radio.

Do you have a certain philosophy for how you approach learning Chinese?  Do you have any grand 想法s about it all?

No grand 想 法. I think that for Chinese, it is really important to absorb as much “real Chinese” as possible, by listening to Chinese people in the streets, on TV, the radio or wherever. The grammar structure is different and at some point you just need to stop translating word for word and think in Chinese.

What aspects of studying Chinese do you enjoy the most?  (this can be specific study resources, methods, activities, social aspects, etc.)

The great thing about studying Chinese is that by learning the language, you get to know a totally different culture. Once you reach a conversational level, you are able to talk to people that have a very different way of thinking and living – Chinese definitely broadens your horizon!

What I also really enjoy is speaking Chinese. I don’ t think that Chinese has a particularly beautiful sound (same for German ;-)), but it is just so much fun to speak it!

What mistakes do you see other language learners make?  What should people NOT do when studying Chinese?

In my opinion, a common mistake is not starting early enough. Chinese simply takes a lot of time in order to master it (memorizing characters, knowing pinyin, idioms, etc). As you get older you have less time and I don’t think would have ever have reached the level I’m at now if I had started learning Chinese in college.

The next big mistake is not working on your tones enough. In my opinion, good pronunciation is much more important in Chinese than perfect grammar or a huge vocabulary!

Any favorite words or phrases? (there are loads which don’t have equivalents in English)

I particularly love the particles at the end of a sentence in order to express astonishment, excitement or ot of other things,like 啦, 吧,呢。Don’t really know why ;-)

Funny stories from your experience? Embarrassing language mistakes, misunderstandings, surreal moments, etc.

The first time I was in China, my level of Chinese was conversational. One day, on a bus to the park, I met a guy who was nice enough to show me around the park. We had a really good time until one of us mentioned that Mao Zedong’s picture is on all RMB bills. In a totally innocent way, he asked if there was a picture of Hitler on all German bills! I was shocked by the question and said that of course there wasn’t, which really surprised him and he wanted to know why. Apparently, he had never heard about the crimes of the Third Reich. With my really limited Chinese, I tried to explain him, but of course I didn’t have the necessary vocabulary ( I didn’t even know how to say “Jews” in Chinese). Quite a frustrating experience!

Any memorable milestones? Any “Aha!” or eureka moments?

When I went to Beijing for my law school, the first thing I did was flip on the TV. However, I hardly understood a thing, they were speaking so fast! After about three or four weeks, I suddenly had a moment where I realized that I could understand the news on TV!

How do you keep yourself motivated while studying Chinese?

Well, this is a bit difficult for me lately, as I have already written above. I think the best thing is going to China once in a while and really using your Chinese!

Absolute, favorite, hands down Chinese dish?

A great dish to eat together with friends! I also love Chinese fried noodles, there are so many different kinds!

Do you have one last tip for something that our readers can do TODAY to improve their Chinese?

Work on your tones! Listen to Chinese sound tapes, try to imitate, record yourself and compare!


Thanks Beatrix for all those tips and the funny bus/park story!

All of you reading this, be sure to try out FluentU. It offers you exactly what Beatrix considers to be important for improving your Chinese skills.

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