lessons learning mandarin chinese rebecca hundley

Lessons in Learning Chinese: Rebecca Hundley

This week on our Lessons in Learning Chinese series, we’ve interviewed Rebecca Hundley. What’s rather interesting about some of her stories and tips is that she’s gotten them from living abroad in Taipei and in rural Yunnan teaching English to Chinese children. In her own words:

My name is Rebecca Hundley, and I’m a native of North Carolina, USA. I attended the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, graduating in 2012 with a degree in Global Studies and a minor in Chinese. I now live and work in rural Yunnan, China about 30 miles from the Burmese border teaching English in a small village called Dawen. I teach 3rd, 4th and 5th grade English to first time English learners, and it has been quite the adventure. I love my students!

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

About 3 years now. I started studying in university for a year and a half, and then had to take time off from it to finish classes for my major. My senior year of university I lived and studied abroad in Taipei, Taiwan, and this helped my Chinese a lot, as well as reawakening my love for the language.

Now I live in Mainland, China teaching English in rural Yunnan. I am the only foreigner at my school, so I have to use Chinese every single day. I love this.

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

It’s a habit. It has to become a part of your daily life, just like any other habit. Even if you only learn 5 new words a day, that will compound across a lot of different days and you will realize that your knowledge has significantly increased. Make studying flashcards, going online, talking to a friend, whatever it is that you do to learn, a part of your daily life.

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

I’d say it’s using my Chinese in social settings with my friends, especially when we talk about politics and the economy and I discover that I can actually say a lot!

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

Tones! They should realize that tones are the most important thing that one needs to really get down solid. Thinking that tones aren’t that important is a huge mistake.

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

I like 差不多 (chà bù duō) and 麻烦 (má fan).   

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

I was once talking with my girlfriend’s best friend and trying to tell her that my grandpa (外公 - wài gōng) would come to my graduation. However, I kept saying the word for my husband (老公 - lǎo gōng) and I am definitely not married! She figured out what was happening and we had a good laugh, but I was so embarrassed! Haha!

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

Figuring out how to use “被”(bèi). So confusing!

How do you keep yourself motivated while studying Chinese? 

I live in China, so it’s easy to be motivated. Having friends whose native language is Chinese helps to push me so that we can speak about deeper topics. Also, I love international relations, so when I think about the importance of China in the future, I am reminded of how much I need to excel in this language!

 Absolute, hands down, favorite Chinese dish?

烧烤茄子(shāo kǎo qié zi) or BBQ style eggplant in Yunnan.

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

Find something simple that you can use to study everyday. Maybe it’s making 5 new flashcards a day that you carry around in your pocket and look at when you’re bored. You could keep a stack of flashcards in your car so when you get stuck in traffic you have something productive to do; or, you can use a flashcards app on your smart phone to learn. Make a small step towards forming a habit that you can do everyday. Try to do it at the same time each day so it becomes a part of your regular routine. Then, be proud of yourself for having done it, and celebrate a little each day for having studied. You’re more likely to keep studying in the long term!


Thanks Rebecca for sharing your tips and funny stories. I agree that tones are definitely important, they say that some Chinese who cannot pronounce the difference between “zhang” versus “zang” or “zheng” versus “zhen” etc. can still make out what you’re saying as long as your tone is right.

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