Sally had always wanted to become fluent in a second language but didn’t get the chance until she started learning Chinese at university. Her first trip to China was twenty years ago. Sally is fluent in spoken and written Chinese and has attained professional accreditation as a translator in the direction from Chinese to English. Sally is from Brisbane, Australia, now working as a yoga teacher but also teaches Chinese privately to people in her neighbourhood.
One interesting fact about Sally: She wrote a book about her experiences of being married to, and raising a family with her husband who is from Qingdao, China.

Time Stamped Show Notes

  • [1:32] – Sally lives in Brisbane, Australia and is married to a Chinese man from the city Qingdao
  • [1:44] – Sally and her family live mostly in China, but also take lots of trips to visit family in Qingdao
  • [2:37] – Sally has begun teaching yoga based on some Eastern/Chinese philosophy
  • [3:18] – Why did Sally learn Chinese?
    • [3:35] – As a child, Sally received a picture book of China and was really drawn to it
    • [4:07] – Sally wanted to study a language but wasn’t able to until college
      • [4:13] – Sally first wanted to study economics and law, but didn’t immediately get into the law program so she decided to study a language with her economics degree
      • [4:48] – Sally’s university had Japanese, Indonesian, Korean, and Chinese; She chose Chinese by process of elimination and wasn’t too sure she would stay with it before she started
    • [5:27] – Sally’s first class only had about 20 people, so it was an intimate setting
    • [5:42] – The teacher was wonderful and her stories helped captivate Sally
    • [6:04] – Sally was only 17 at the time and she thinks her youth helped her to pick up the sounds of Chinese quickly
    • [6:15] – Sally never looked back and ended up completed a double major with Chinese where she learned both speaking and writing, even diving into Confucius texts
    • [6:37] – Sally always wanted to be able to speak a second language, and she’s glad Chinese fulfilled that wish
  • [7:31] – What’s were Sally’s other motivations in learning Chinese?
    • [7:39] – At the time, there was the sense that China was a quickly developing nation and that learning Chinese would create opportunities
      • [8:00] – That motivation wasn’t nearly as big for Sally as her love for the language
  • [8:34] – When Sally graduated, one of her professors gave her a sort of scholarship to go study more in China and arranged her time there
  • [9:16] – In February 1997, at the age of 21, Sally got on a plane and went to Beijing
    • [9:31] – It was an eye opening experience — Sally had never even needed to wear an overcoat before arriving in Beijing
    • [9:51] – On the flight, Sally serendipitously met some other students who were going to the same university as her
    • [10:33] – There were students from all over the world at the university and this contributed to an amazing experience
    • [10:57] – Even having studied Chinese for 4 years, Sally wasn’t immediately able to speak or understand Chinese well, but it came quickly once she arrived in Beijing
  • [12:01] – Sally was in Beijing for a year, and was able to travel all over China during a 2-month summer holiday
  • [13:00] – Sally did an honor’s degree in economics and worked for a while, but felt drawn back to Beijing and went back in 2001
    • [13:28] – The second time going to China was through the Australia-China Council, and Sally did a 6 month business course in Chinese and then found an internship in Beijing
  • [13:50] – How did Sally learn Chinese?
    • [13:58] – Sally didn’t initially grasp the importance of listening
      • [14:09] – Sally made the most progress with Chinese when she spoke less and listened more
      • [14:18] – Sally learned how Chinese people responded in a specific situation, which is how she understood social context and Chinese manners
      • [15:00] – Chinese language is repetitive, and so listening really helps you learn what to say in given situations
    • [15:55] – Sally shares an interesting technique of imitation and repetition that one of her Chinese teachers used
    • [17:20] – Repetition is very important for learning a language
    • [17:34] – Sally uses a method of listening, then imitating and repeating, and finally testing recall
    • [17:42] – Sally recommends personally making a flashcard for every new character in order to remember them
    • [19:03] – Sally shares some language games and methods she uses to make language learning more fun and memorable
    • [21:09] – Sally thinks a lot of her achievement in Chinese stemmed from anxiety about failing her Chinese classes, which motivated her
    • [21:45] – Last year, Sally was driven to study for her translation exam in part because she knew that people would know whether she passed or failed
    • [22:10] – Sally thinks that studying Chinese without pressure or goals makes it easier to stagnate or stop learning
      • [22:21] – Sally recommends creating pressure and measuring your progress along the way is important
    • [22:49] – Another way to stay motivated is by going to China, either for an immersion program or just to travel
    • [22:39] – Sally talks about how technology has made it a bit more difficult to listen to Chinese people chatting or to meet strangers to speak Chinese with
  • [23:57] – Sally talks about how common it is for Chinese people to want to speak English in China, and how she always prefers to speak Chinese while in China
  • [25:06] – Sally shares a story about her experience in 2005 working as a bi-lingual assistant in a big engineering project in China and meeting her husband
  • [26:20] – Informal and friendly settings are often the best for language learning
  • [26:51] – It’s nice for Chinese people to be able to speak Chinese with foreigners
  • [27:11] – Rather than looking for language partners, find people who just want to be your friend and will speak Chinese with you
    • [27:35] – For Chinese people talking to foreigners who want to learn Chinese, the kindest thing you can do is put aside your need to learn English and speak Chinese with foreigners who speak or are trying to speak Chinese
  • [28:36] – Sally really appreciates cultural diversity, which was another motivating factor in traveling to China and learning Chinese
  • [29:06] – What has been Sally’s biggest challenge in learning Chinese?
    • [29:13] – The tones were the biggest challenge at first
      • [30:25]Sally made a lot of mistakes and had to think a lot about the tones at first, but after a lot of repetition and imitation the tones became second nature
    • [32:15] – Victor shares a metaphor for learning non-tonal vs. tonal languages
  • [33:21] – If Sally were to start over with learning Chinese from scratch, how would she do it?
    • [33:31] – Sally introduces Chinese to people now by teaching them the pinyin chart and spending a bit of time on the tones
    • [33:56] – Sally also recommends getting a good textbook and capitalizing on the experience of people who have been teaching Chinese for a long time
    • [35:13] – A good teacher is also important
      • [35:19] – Sally doesn’t teach kids because her pronunciation isn’t like a native speaker, but for adults it can even help to have a non-Chinese teacher who understands all of the same struggles for westerners learning a tonal language
  • [36:33] – Embarrassing moment: Mispronouncing tones for a simple phrase 
    • [36:39] – Sally was given the role of narrator for a show put on by her school. She just had to say “welcome” in Chinese but mispronounced the tones
  • [37:06] – Most rewarding feeling: Fitting in with her Chinese family
    • [37:32] – Achievement and pride are nice, but nothing feels as good to Sally as being able to connect and fit in with her Chinese family and friends
    • [38:25] – Sally shares more rewarding moments and highlights of her language learning journey
  • [39:52] – Sally wants to expose her children to as much Chinese as possible and has enjoyed being able to engage with Chinese parents
  • [40:39] – Sally also sees how Chinese connects with her yoga teaching practice that’s based on Daoism, which is a Chinese philosophy that Sally can understand in its original language
  • [42:33] – Life before learning Chinese vs. life after learning Chinese
    • [42:41] – It opened Sally up to a rich culture and a new way of life
    • [42:48] – There’s a saying that rings true for Sally that you live two lives when you speak a different language
  • [43:18] – A difference between the Chinese culture and Sally’s own culture
    • [43:25] – Food and the connection between people that occurs over the table is such a huge part of Chinese life
    • [44:31] – In China food is medicine, food is connection, and Chinese people think about food in terms of what they need to sustain them and keep them healthy
    • [45:26] – Chinese quote: 民以食为天 mín yǐ shí wéi tiān, which means that people treat the food as sky
  • [46:01] – Sally’s favourite cities in China: Qingdao
    • [46:04] – Qingdao has beautiful beaches and a lot of interesting German influences including architecture and beer culture
    • [47:09] – Qingdao has become overcrowded and changed a lot in the last 15 years
    • [47:27] – Qingdao is in the north, so it has cold winters and Sally’s favorite type of noodles

Sally’s Favourite Chinese Quote

  • [50:20] – 好合好散 hǎo hé hǎo sàn – If you’ve come together in a peaceful way, depart gracefully as well
    • 好(hǎo) – good
    • 合(hé) – to join together
    • 好(hǎo) – good
    • 散(sàn) – to fall apart

Sally’s Advice for Chinese Learners

  • [51:57] – Make it fun; If you don’t enjoy it you’ll run out of steam

Connect with Sally

Resources Mentioned:

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