Student Profile: Ben - Chinese Is Not the Easy Way Out

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Name: Ben

Nationality: USA

Time in China: +1 year

Chinese Level: Advanced (HSK 6), 6 years

Other Languages: English

GoEast Teacher: Rex Xu 徐琎

Favorite Chinese Phrase/Word: 丑萌 (chǒu méng)
Literally it means "ugly cute", when something is really ugly but it's also cute, or the fact that it's ugly makes it cute, like pugs.


Why did you start learning Chinese?

Growing up in the Bay Area [San Francisco] there's just a lot of Chinese around me and I was just curious and thought it was cool. My high school offered three different languages, we had French, Spanish, and Chinese. So the first two years, I studied French and then my friend was learning Chinese. He convinced me to take Chinese with him so I was like, yeah, ok sure why not. Then I really really liked it and decided to continue studying. I actually studied Chinese as my major in college.

What did you like about learning Chinese?

That class I was in and the people I was with made it a lot of fun. But then, especially cause I'm a very visual person, I really enjoyed learning characters. So that had a lot of appeal. And it was just different, you know? Spanish and French were the languages people took because, "we have to do this language requirement so let's just pick an easy one and get it over with." But no one picks Chinese because they think it's going to be the easy way out. So the people who were there really wanted to be there and it was just a really positive environment from the beginning. And also Chinese grammar is really easy.

What advice do you have to beginner learners?

When I was in Taiwan [for two and a half months], I wish I had actually put myself out there a lot more to talk to people because, I'm a very good student, but I think that what would have been better would have been to just relax off the classroom-type learning a bit and just get out in the world and talk to people more. I needed to do more "in the wild" practice.

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What's the best way to practice conversations with native speakers?

Honestly, you don't really have to do much, cause as a foreigner [in China], usually those kinds of conversations find you. Just yesterday, we were trying to cross the street but a lot of cars kept coming. So the lady in front of us said 好害怕 (hǎo hài pà, so scary) and then we were like 是的 (shì de, yeah). So that moment that they realize that you actually know Chinese, and then they start going and then, boom, you have your conversation. And you always have something to talk about: where are you from, how long have you learned Chinese... It's a pretty good starting point. But when you get to know someone a lot better you can go off anywhere [in conversation]. And then you can get really used to their style of speaking, which actually makes it a lot easier to understand them, which makes it easier to learn things from them.

Any other advice to Chinese learners?

Don't be afraid of being embarrassed because that's how you're going to learn. And if you're not getting embarrassed, it means you're not talking, which means you're not learning.