Joseph was born in Germany but raised in the USA, mainly in Colorado, currently, lives in Denver. Joseph began studying Chinese 8 years ago. After 2.5 years of study, he moved to China for 4 years. Joseph now works for the Colorado Judicial Branch of government and his current position is a clerk to a magistrate.
One interesting fact about Joseph: He enjoys running and attended the Shanghai marathon in 2013 and got a very ugly orange shirt for doing that.

“It’s much easier for me to see the other side of any argument now, because I was forced to take a perspective on so many ways of life that I had never experienced before.”

– Joseph Strong

Time Stamped Show Notes

  • [1:33] – Joseph went to university at Colorado State and began studying psychology
  • [1:45] – Joseph didn’t enjoy psychology, so in his second year he decided to try studying an East Asian language
  • [2:54] – Joseph’s Chinese teacher was really excellent and made learning the language fun
  • [3:34] – Joseph knew after a short time in the class that he would live in China someday
  • [3:42] – Why did Joseph learn Chinese?
    • [3:56] – Joseph was born in Germany but grew up in America, and that contributed to his desire to expand his worldview while he had the opportunity in college
    • [4:29] – Joseph was interested in international studies which required taking language classes
    • [5:08] – Joseph knew that there wouldn’t be as much opportunity to study East Asian languages, particularly Chinese, after finishing university
    • [5:26] – The two biggest reasons Joseph stuck with Chinese were his relationship with his teacher at Colorado State and the fact that he was good at Chinese
      • [6:27] – The teacher made learning Chinese easier by creating a great learning environment
      • [6:48] – A big reason that Chinese was easier for Joseph than Spanish is that Chinese grammar is much simpler than most other languages
  • [7:59] – What’s Joseph’s biggest motivation in learning Chinese?
    • [8:25] – The sense of satisfaction that came with learning and doing well in the class was an important motivator
    • [9:10] – By the time Joseph started hitting learning plateaus he was learning about Chinese history, politics, and culture, which gave him a greater sense of purpose to keep learning the language
  • [10:30] – How did Joseph learn Chinese?
    • [10:39] – Human interaction with Chinese speakers
      • [11:12] – Joseph knew that he wasn’t a diligent studier so this interaction was very important for him
    • [11:56] – Colorado State made connections with a few Chinese universities while Joseph was studying there which led to a huge influx of Chinese students that he could hang out with
    • [13:20] – Being able to converse with other guys around the same age really helped because Joseph could imitate the way they talked and their mannerisms
  • [14:33] – In 2012, Joseph got an ESL certification to teach English to adults and went to China to work
  • [15:43] – When he arrived in China in 2012 he was conversational in Chinese, around HSK4
  • [16:53] – Besides his primary learning method of interacting with Chinese friends, Joseph did do some studying while he was in university
    • [17:11] – Joseph shares his method for learning vocab by doing writing repetition for 2 days, then using the new vocab in sentences for 2 days, and then trying to use what he learned as fluently as possible the rest of the week
  • [19:07] – It’s good to use whatever method is most enjoyable for you to learn a language, but you do have to make an extra effort in the areas where you don’t excel as much
  • [20:27] – What has been Joseph’s biggest challenge in learning Chinese?
    • [20:56] – Joseph’s biggest challenge wasn’t a feature of the language learning process itself but rather overcoming a negative experience he had in China
      • [21:34]Joseph shares his story: After about 3 months in China, Joseph was attacked by a couple of young Chinese guys while out at a bar and was very badly injured
      • [22:15] – After this terrible experience, Joseph was no longer interested in speaking or learning Chinese ever again
        • [23:25] – This attitude lasted until about a month before his work contract was up when some new foreign teachers arrived and reminded Joseph of how he had felt about China before the incident
        • [25:20] – This occurred in 长春 Changchun in northern China
      • [25:37] – Joseph talks about what happened the day after the incident and struggling to deal with the family of one of his attackers and the police while feeling very vulnerable
  • [29:53] – If Joseph were to start learning Chinese from scratch again, how would he do it?
    • [29:59] – Joseph would have focused on tones a lot more in the beginning to build a better foundation
      • [30:05] – Joseph’s teacher took a relaxed approach in order to make learning Chinese as unintimidating as possible for students
    • [30:55] – Joseph never really used pinyin, which he thinks was very beneficial and recommends that new learners try to do in order to learn characters better from the beginning
  • [32:16] – Embarrassing moment: Cursing and making somebody cry
    • [32:24] – Context: Joseph learned a lot of his Chinese by talking with other guys his age, and some of them happened to curse a lot
      • [33:12] – When using these words with each other it wasn’t offensive and it was a symbol of comradery
    • [33:36] – While hanging out with a new group of both guys and girls, one of them teased Joseph a little bit which Joseph responded to with a curse word that ended up being very inappropriate and hurtful in that context
    • [34:20] – Joseph was very apologetic and learned a lesson from it
      • [34:40] – Joseph realised that the guys he had learned a lot from didn’t care much about being respectful or polite
  • [35:48] – Most rewarding moment: Building a relationship with his (now) wife’s family
    • [35:56] – Joseph reiterates that relationships and human connection are the most important thing in life to him
    • [36:12] – Joseph met his wife in 2014 and spent time with her family during the national holiday in 2015
      • [37:19] – Joseph was able to really connect with them because he could speak Chinese well
  • [38:49] – Joseph and his wife currently live in the US but are open to moving back to China in the future
  • [39:24] – Joseph doesn’t get to use Chinese as often as he would like now that he lives in the US again, but he does have some opportunities still
  • [41:54] – Life before learning Chinese vs. life after learning Chinese
    • [41:59] – Before living in China, Joseph had a very defined idea of who he was and how the world worked
    • [42:36] – After learning Chinese and living in China, Joseph now sees that there are three different versions of himself: an entirely American version, an entirely Chinese version, and one in between
    • [44:32] – It’s much easier to relate to other people’s viewpoints, ideas, and actions now because Joseph has experienced having this extreme personal transformation
  • [45:32] – A difference between the Chinese culture and Joseph’s own culture
    • [45:39] – Joseph appreciates how small business operate in China
      • [45:55] – After 2 years in China, Joseph moved to work at a very small school (< 200 students) and helped to develop the curriculum and business structure from the ground up
      • [46:51] – Joseph was able to attend a lot of events that showed how this school was being built through strong interpersonal relationships instead of product development and sales/marketing
  • [49:44] – Joseph’s favourite cities in China: 长春 Changchun
    • [49:47] – There are many more beautiful places in China than the northeast, but that’s where all of Joseph’s favorite people in China live so it’s the place that he feels most connected to
    • [50:56] – If Joseph were showing foreigners China he would take them to Beijing

Joseph’s Favourite Chinese Quote

  • [62:03] – 外强中干: Strong in appearance but weak in reality
    • 外(wài) – outside
    • 强(qiáng) – strong
    • 中(zhōng) – center
    • 干(gān) – dried
  • [62:46] – Joseph likes this expression a lot because the substance of a person is the most important thing for him to create a long-lasting connection or relationship
  • [63:36] – At the time when he learnt it, this was a very relevant expression to Joseph because he had to learn how to look past first impressions

Joseph’s Advice for Chinese Learners

  • [66:07] – Use Chinese to do what you love. If you do that, it will always be easier for you to continue your studies
    • [66:21] – It’s easy to get caught up in what other Chinese learners are doing, especially if you are competitive
    • [67:34] – You don’t have to do anything that anybody else is doing, you have to find what you love. That’s how you learn most efficiently and actually retain everything that you’re learning

Connect with Joseph

Resources Mentioned:

  • [54:28] – Joseph used Pleco and Anki while studying for the HSK
    • [54:55] – Joseph recommends searching English words on Baidu and looking at the results to see how people have translated it into Chinese
  • [56:37] – Book: Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China
    • [56:59] – Joseph explains some more context about this book and why he recommends it, particularly for young people who have grown up without facing poverty or other significant adversity

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