chinese learner interview serie brad

Lessons in Learning Chinese: Brad Calder

This week on our Lessons in Learning Chinese series, we feature Bra Calder! He worked in China for 2 years and just moved back to the states with lots of tips and knowledge about this language and culture.

In his own words:

My name is Brad Calder, I’m 24 years old and was born and raised in New Jersey. I went to University in upstate NY where I studied Economics and Philosophy. After graduation I moved to China for two years. Since moving back to the US I work as an institutional investor in New York City. As hobbies, I enjoy Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, reading both fiction and nonfiction, cooking, swimming, hiking, and Chinese.

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

I’ve been studying Chinese for two years. I began studying Chinese because I wanted to move to China. At the time I arrived in China I did not speak a word of Chinese. Arriving in China with that level of knowledge with the intent to live and work there is challenging. For the first time in the part of my life which I remember, I was profoundly illiterate (I could not read, write, speak, or listen). Once I dealt with introductory Chinese, I decided I wanted to try and understand the society I was living in and meet people so I started studying Chinese more seriously.


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

I do not have a grand theory of education nor one specifically dedicated to learning Chinese. I can speak with experience though that as a white person with ZERO knowledge of Chinese it is almost impossible to differentiate between tones for the first 2-3 months. Do not be disheartened. Believe it or not Chinese children take years to learn Chinese and learning it as an adult is at least as difficult.


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

I use Skritter to improve vocab and Chinese retention. Also, I dated some Chinese girls and this improved my Chinese substantially.


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

The primary mistake people make when learning Chinese is that they lack conviction. For example, of the 35 people I moved to China with who did not know any Chinese, only 3 of us were able to speak Chinese conversationally after one year. Learning a language is not a question of IQ if it were then half the population would be incapable of communicating vocally, rather it is purely a matter of studying 30 min to 1 hour a day for a year. If you put 300 hours of concerted effort into Chinese you will be reasonably strong speaking.

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



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

I have made so many mistakes so many times it is hard to isolate one example. Once I asked a girl whether she was lost, she looked at me and could not fathom both the fact that I knew Chinese and that I could actually give her directions. The general surprise of Chinese people when you can speak a decent degree of Mandarin is more what fascinates me most.


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

I once had a dream totally in Chinese which was surreal. My first major aha moment happened when I first started to clearly hear tones.


How do you keep yourself motivated while studying Chinese?

Put yourself in situations where you need to use Chinese. If you live in China this is not an issue, if you live in America try using and look for a group about China and then go to a meeting and make some friends. If you live in a major US city this should not be a problem if you live in a small town in the US I think it will be much more difficult for you to maintain the requisite motivation for concerted Chinese study.


Absolute, hands down, favorite Chinese dish?

This question is like asking who is the greatest Athlete in the world? China is not a country like Norway, where there is one dominant cooking style and some national dishes of note. China should rather be viewed like Europe. Asking the question, “what is your favorite Chinese food?” is like asking the question “what is your favorite European food?”

China has at least 10 totally distinct culinary traditions. Food in Xizang cannot be compared with food in Dongbei or Sichuan. I enjoy many dishes from all of these traditions. For more information on this subject, I suggest you YouTube “Anthony Bourdaine China.” He is a travel writer/chef who has extensive culinary experience and has episodes ranging from Hong Kong to Sichuan.


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

Go to and try and go to a social event with many Chinese people and make some friends, if you are single try to date a person who speaks the language you are interested in learning.


Thanks for all those tips Brad. I definitely agree with how there needs to be conviction when trying to study this language. Like any skill, you need to actually work at it!

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