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Growing up, I remember hearing people say, "If you learn Chinese, you'll be set in life." "Learning Chinese, are you crazy?" I thought. It appeared to be quicker to fly to the moon or discover life on a different planet before learning Chinese. Then, I ended up moving to China years later. It’s become apparent that it is possible to learn Chinese. Of course, being surrounded by people speaking Chinese every day helps. Learning a language is no different than learning any other skills. Practice! Practice a lot!

There are numerous ways one can acquire Chinese. Whether from learning in a classroom or from a local Chinese friend, it's all possible! We got the chance to speak with several of our staff and teachers here in Beijing who have taken on the feat to learn Chinese. Perhaps their experiences will inspire you to take on the challenge.


My first encounter with the Chinese language was when I was seven years old. It wasn't very challenging. I was young, so my ability to learn a new language was still very high. Of course, not all was always perfect. One day, I was playing a game similar to hide and seek with my Chinese friends. We were playing on two teams. We named our rival team 'dī rēn,' which means enemy in Chinese. One of the kid's on my team shouted, "dī ren lái lē" (The enemy is coming), and I called, "dì zhen lái lē" (The earthquake is coming). Everyone got confused and stopped running for a bit. I was supposed to repeat the same sentence the kid on my team had shouted to reiterate, but I messed it up. That's because the words enemy and earthquake sounded almost the same to me. I would advise anyone learning Chinese to practice a lot and apply it to situations as much as possible. Repetition generates long term memory.

photo by: Stephanie


With anything new, you have to put in the time. In my experience, it's been easier to learn after living in China for over a year. It's much easier picking up the different sounds because of the smaller things I continue to pick up. I remember the first few months of learning Chinese; there was no progress for me. All the sounds and words sounded too familiar or just too foreign. I wasn't able to pick it up. Having the opportunity to be able to have classes more frequently has helped me a lot. For the last four months, I've had my one on one private classes once a week on Wednesdays. On Mondays, I have classes with Houhai English, learning different words, grammar, and relevant things. It's easier to learn things relevant to my daily life and then practice when I'm out doing something. Putting in time is very important, but it's also fun.


Learning Chinese has been both a challenging and fascinating experience. Making out sounds has been relatively easy because I'm a Zulu speaker as well. Zulu has many click sounds. What's been most challenging is being able to apply the correct tones after you've memorized the word. The tones can be a bit confusing. Master the four tones first. Once you've mastered them, pronunciation will come naturally.


I enjoy attending the Chinese classes here at Houhai English on Mondays. It's fun and challenging. I've been an English only speaker for many years, and it is challenging to learn to speak another language. I have to train my tongue and muscles in my mouth to move differently and to pronounce the words. I also have to practice speaking with the correct tones. You have to practice generating the proper tones and muscle movements of the mouth to pronounce the words right. However, I am up for the challenge. It's vital to be able to communicate.

photo by: Stephanie


I am learning Chinese on Duolingo, a Chinese language learning app. Here, I can improve my listening and learn some characters. My tip would be to learn words or short sentences that you will use in your daily life. Get one of your Chinese colleagues to listen to your pronunciation and practice out loud. Also, try to understand what people will regularly ask you. For example, at the supermarket, the cashier will ask if you have a supermarket card and if you want a bag. And at the entrance, you will be asked to scan a barcode to check your health report.


I thought it was essential to learn Chinese when I came to China. So, I learned things like numbers, hello, goodbye, and thank you. When I am with my coworkers, I ask them to give me a new phrase to learn every day, and that's been helpful. I also use some apps like Hello Chinese and Duolingo, which are excellent. However, having someone to speak to you is more important because sometimes the tones are not correct. It would be best if you had a good grasp of how the word tones. I think speaking to people and practicing your language is excellent. If you're going to be using apps, you need to be going out every day and practicing. You should practice sentences and phrases and make sure they are understandable because you could be saying something wholly offensive or just wrong.

Do the above experiences inspire you to both potentially learn Chinese and believe it's possible? It's a wonder how far non-verbal communication can get you in China, but knowing the language will get you further. You can even start now! Wán dé kāixīn (Have fun)!

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