lessons learning mandarin chinese chasity chan

Lessons in Learning Chinese: Chasity Chan

This week we’re featuring Chasity Chan, an ABC that’s got some great tips and stories from her trips to Hong Kong, experiences living in China and up bringing.

In her own words:

I’m a 23-year old aspiring physician assistant who was born and raised in Charlotte, NC. Since my mom still has family in Hong Kong, we try to visit as often as we can. Eventually, I started treating Hong Kong as my second home that makes me super fat with its delicious dimsum. I graduated from UNC Chapel Hill with a degree in Asian Studies in 2011. Soon after that, I taught English to rambunctious middle school kids in Shenzhen for a year. Now I’m back in Charlotte working in the medical field.

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

I grew up speaking a mix of Cantonese and English in the Chan household, which is why my friends call it Changlish. Unfortunately, I resented going to Chinese Sunday school and never properly learned how to read Chinese characters. I have always been proud of my Chinese heritage but my childhood self did not see reading in Chinese as a practical skill to have. The desire to learn how to read and to learn more of the Chinese culture and history beyond Hong Kong didn’t emerge until college, where I studied Mandarin Chinese for four years. After graduation, I went to Shenzhen in hopes of improving my fluency in Mandarin before pursuing a medical career.

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

There’s nothing special to repetition. Speaking, listening and reading are all aspects of language learning that requires repetition. There were a few people that assumed that Mandarin would come easily to me because I spoke Cantonese. In reality, Mandarin and Chinese are considered two different languages linguistically. For me, I had to go over things a lot to get used to the sound of Mandarin alone.If I couldn’t find someone to speak Chinese with, I just kept saying some phrases out loud to myself to make myself comfortablewith saying it. For listening, I watched Taiwanese dramas. For reading, other than the usual flashcards (I abuse Anki flashcards), I took a book like Harry Potter and tried my hand at translating it.

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

I enjoy connecting with people, and studying Mandarin opened the door to 1/4th of the world’s population. One of the best moments was when a friend and I went out to drink with our maintenance guy and security guards on Thanksgiving. Our conversation somehow ranged from the drinking age in China (or lack thereof) to polygamy cases in America. Although sites like  nciku.comiciba.com, and mdbg.net are great for translating, I couldn’t just read everything to learn. I’m the type of learner that needs visual resources to fully comprehend concepts, so it would’ve been nice to have more websites that help learners to connect images to Chinese characters (mnemonic) so that they can remember the meaning behind a character easier. I’m new to Fluentu.com but it looks extremely promising!

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

For beginners, tones and pronunciation. I don’t claim to be a Chinese speaker extraordinaire, but I wince when beginners pronounce something extremely wrong or purposely leave out tones. For example, someone said 谢谢 as ‘shee shee’ with neutral tones, which doesn’t even sound remotely Chinese. When starting out, practicing tones and pronunciation should be a priority so learning Chinese will be easier down the road.

For intermediates, vocabulary. At this stage, Chinese learners are set with grammar but use lack of vocabulary as an excuse for not speaking Chinese well enough. Chinese teachers can only introduce so much new material in a classroom under an hour. So learners should make an effort to find words that they would use themselves in everyday speech and be able to express their personality better.

For the advanced, understanding. When going to China, there will obviously be cultural differences. I’ve seen a few classmates try to force their ideals on Chinese natives, which only ended badly. It’s important to keep an open mind in order to open up chances for future friendships.

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

My favorite idiom is 井底之蛙 (jǐng dǐ zhī wā) which literally means “frog in the well.” It reminds me not to remain ignorant and explore whenever possible.

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

None of my stories top my friend’s moment: He was at a banquet in Beijing and he thought he asked the official sitting near him if he could borrow his bottle opener. But the official looked offended and walked off. It turns out that my friend messed up his tones and asked the official if he could borrow his wife.

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

As an ABC, a lot Chinese natives aren’t very interested in me as a foreigner. But there were a few people, like my hairdresser, who were genuinely interested in my life experiences as a person with Chinese ancestry living in both the West and the East. I knew my hairdresser spoke Cantonese, but the whole time he cut my hair I spoke to him in Mandarin, which was an awesome feat!

How do you keep yourself motivated while studying Chinese?

While back in America, I find a good Chinese movie or drama from ” href=”http://viki.com/” target=”_blank”>viki.com or dramacrazy.net once in a while.

Absolute, hands down, favorite Chinese dish?

It would be a crime if I didn’t say dimsum! Sometimes I feel insulted if my friends don’t like it.

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

While in college I enjoyed talking in Chinese to classmates-turned-friends while hanging out. Maybe y’all can do the same but bet each other a couple bucks that they wouldn’t last the night speaking exclusively in Chinese :D

Just keep that Chinese language in your ear and mouth as much as possible and you’ll make real progress. FluentU can always help you out with that.

If you’re interested in being featured on our Lessons in Learning Chinese series, please let us know.

If you liked this post, something tells me that you'll love FluentU, the best way to learn Chinese with real-world videos.

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