Lessons in Learning Chinese: Dan Jones

Next up in our Lessons in Learning Chinese series is experienced learner Dan Jones. In his own words:

I’m from the Wales and currently teaching English at the Dalian University of Technology. I love photography, I have my own projects but also do work for magazines and websites.  I’ve been learning Chinese for just over two years, attended some classes but mostly do one-to-one lessons.

Thanks Dan.  Enjoy!

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

If you want to get good at Chinese you need to be totally immersed in it. I work and study at the same
time, so when work gets busy and I have less time to study, I notice my progress slowing and sometimes even receding. But during holidays I’ve taken intensive courses and during these periods of no distraction my Chinese really improved.

What aspects of studying Chinese do you enjoy the most?

I really like to learn by doing- I’ve used a lot of language exchanges and hang out with Chinese and non-English speaking friends. I currently have one-to-one lessons which I’ve tailored to be more conversational. I find this helps me find the gaps in my knowledge that need filling, and then actively look to fill them.

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

Many people come to China to study Chinese but spend all their free time with people from their own country, which just defeats the purpose of coming here. The ones who make Chinese friends and integrate tend to improve a lot more. I give the same advice to Chinese students going to study abroad.

Any favorite words so far?

I quite like learning the local Dalian dialect, I don’t use it much but dropping a few words here and there spices conversation up. My personal favourite is血受 (xiě shòu) which means great/cool/ awesome.  血 (blood) can even replace 很 (very) in a sentence, which as I come from the UK, and would say something was ‘bloody good’ in English, having a direct translation in Chinese is great.

Funny stories from your experience? Embarrassing language mistakes or misunderstandings?

I could fill a book with mistakes I’ve made. Maybe the worst was when the president of our school
visited our department. At the time I was the only foreign teacher who had studied Chinese, so another teacher told him I could speak Chinese. He fired a couple of sentences at me, both of which I didn’t understand, so he concluded I was an idiot, thanked me and left.

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

The first time I used Chinese to actually have a conversation. I was with some friends at a restaurant,
some of whom were Japanese who couldn’t speak English (and I certainly can’t speak Japanese). I was expecting to only be able to introduce myself and explain what I do in China, but I managed to hold conversation for most of the night in Chinese. This was a real confidence booster! I really recommend hanging out with non-English speaking Chinese speakers who are not Chinese; although you could pick-up each other’s bad habits, it helps with fluency. When you make a pronunciation mistake they usually understand what you mean and the conversation carries on.

How do you keep yourself motivated while studying Chinese?

It’s real life usage that keeps me motivated. At first it was the little victories such as ordering food,
asking how much products cost, and buying train tickets. These days Chinese helps me with my photography; I’ve gone from just gesturing with my camera to being able to approach people, speak with them, and ask them to pose. It also gives me access to services and opportunities such as organising photo shoots, joining other photographers, finding models and arranging studio time, all these things I wouldn’t be able to do in English.


Thanks to Dan for sharing his stories and insights!

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