Mike is from Minnesota, United States. Apart from English and Chinese, he also speaks basic Spanish. Mike studied Chinese on and off for 5 years, then just learned through daily things. Mike is 37 years old, now living in Shanghai and teaching Design Technology at an international school.
Interesting fact about Mike: He hates eating tomatoes but he loves foods with tomato in them.

“Learning Chinese is one of the hardest things you’ll do, but you’ll have the reward of being able to communicate with 1.4 billion really friendly people.”

– Mike Goffman

Time Stamped Show Notes

  • [2:13] – Mike first went to China about 10 years ago and didn’t speak any Chinese at the time
  • [2:22] – After just a few days in China, Mike knew that he wanted to learn Chinese and also become a teacher
    • [2:30] – Since then, Mike has gained his professional teaching certification and has lived in China for 8 years
  • [3:07] – Mike studied for 2 years at a school and 2 years with a private tutor and accomplished his goal of passing the HSK-5 on his first try
  • [3:24] – Mike doesn’t study formally anymore but still learns new things every day by talking with Chinese people
  • [4:35] – How did Mike start learning Chinese?
    • [4:41] – Mike didn’t know a single word of Chinese before he moved to China, but he knew that it was really important to learn about Chinese language and culture as long as he was going to be living in China
    • [5:30] – Mike started learning with audio lessons called Pimsleur Chinese that helped give him a good foundation of tones and pronunciation
    • [5:50] – The Pimsleur lessons were missing a visual aspect, so Mike didn’t start learning characters until a bit later on
      • [6:05] – Mike believes that learning the characters instead of just speaking helps you understand the culture and language better and enhances your learning ability
    • [6:48] – Mike found a box of flashcards at a Beijing bookstore with the ‘500 most common Chinese characters’, which he studied every day until he knew them well
  • [7:28] – Why did Mike travel to China and learn Chinese?
    • [7:34] – Mike was working a job in the construction industry that he didn’t like and simply wasn’t happy, so he moved to China to get a career change and transition into teaching
    • [8:13] – Mike maid a lot less money when he first arrived, but he wouldn’t trade the positive experience that he had after moving to China for anything
    • [8:50] – It was a bit scary at first because there were so many unknowns, but Mike found that he really enjoyed this new life and that helped him learn Chinese and become a better teacher
    • [9:47] – Mike never imagined he would stay in China so long, but he ended up getting married to a Chinese woman and living in China pretty much full time
  • [10:14] – Did Mike ever feel discouraged while learning Chinese?
    • [10:21] – All the time. Language learning has peaks where you feel confident and excited about your progress, but also valleys where you are humbled by how much you still don’t know
    • [10:59] – Mike used those moments of discouragement as motivation to set new goals and keep progressing
  • [11:47] – What has been Mike’s biggest motivation in learning Chinese?
    • [11:56] – Mike simply wants to be able to communicate with people wherever he goes in the world, and being able to speak Chinese enables him to communicate with another 20% of the world’s population
  • [12:58] – What were the most effective methods Mike used to learn Chinese?
    • [13:10] – Mike learned the most while riding on sleeper trains and travelling around China because there was nothing to do so he and his friends would spend hours talking with the families on the train and learning new vocabulary
    • [14:19] – Mike progressed from an intermediate level to a fluent level when he hired a 1-to-1 tutor because he was able to have customised lessons and the complete attention of the tutor
    • [15:26] – The ‘500 most common Chinese characters’ flashcards were very helpful for Mike with reading, as well as a series of books that he read that broke down the characters and told stories about them
    • [16:00] – Another tip for reading is switching your phone’s default language to Chinese characters and forcing yourself to do everything in Chinese
    • [16:37] – With smartphones now, you can use an app to study flashcards for a few minutes here and there and that will add up over time
    • [18:08] – Mike thinks his listening skills are the strongest aspect of his Chinese
  • [19:15] – What has been Mike’s biggest challenge in learning Chinese?
    • [19:20] – Tones! Sometimes you’ll hear people say that tones are not that important, but that’s not true
    • [19:37] – Still, the biggest challenge is just persevering through discouragement and frustration
    • [20:00] – Learning Chinese is difficult, but it’s also very rewarding
      • [20:10] – Everybody faces a mental challenge because English and Chinese are very different, but there are some easier aspects to Chinese, such as the simple and flexible grammar
  • [20:53] – If Mike were to start learning Chinese again from scratch, how would he do it?
    • [21:00] – Mike would have started sooner with a 1-on-1 tutor and been more consistent about studying and practising frequently
      • [22:47] – Anytime you’re learning a language, you need people to correct your mistakes or you will continue making them without realizing it’s wrong, so a tutor is particularly helpful in that respect
  • [23:28] – Embarrassing moment: Accidentally saying ‘masturbation’ instead of ‘by airplane’
    • [23:37] – Mike was with a couple friends in a taxi and talking about travelling. When asked how he would travel, Mike wanted to respond with 坐飞机 (take airplane) 搭飞机 (take airplane) but instead said打飞机 (modern Chinese slang for masturbating)
  • [25:14] – Most rewarding moment: Making a presentation to a large audience in Chinese
    • [25:20] – Mike’s boss at the school he works at asked Mike to make a presentation about the school in Chinese to impress parents of potential students there. He made a couple minor mistakes but was overall very successful
  • [26:59] – Life before learning Chinese vs. life after learning Chinese
    • [27:07] – It’s completely different, not just with the language, but embracing a culture that’s so different from American
    • [27:22] – Now that Mike can speak Chinese, he can get around China easily which gives him a lot of freedom
  • [28:56] – A difference between Chinese culture and Mike’s own culture
    • [29:05] – Mike really appreciates the importance of family in Chinese culture, which has been lost a little bit in American culture
    • [30:10] – The individualism in America is good, but sometimes people lose sight of the importance of family
    • [30:22] – It can sometimes be too extreme in China too, where family will make all the decisions for kids and not give them any freedom to make their own choices
    • [30:40] – Victor shares how his grandfather is an extreme case of sacrificing for the family without being concerned about his own life as much
  • [31:28] – Mike’s favourite city in China: Lijiang 丽江 in Yunnan Province
    • [31:31] – Lijang has a beautiful old town and there’s picturesque hiking just outside the city
    • [32:39] – Mike has also visited Manzhouli 满洲里, a city right on the border of where Russia, Mongolia, and China meet. All of the signs there have Chinese, Mongolian, pinyin, Russian, and English. The city is a strange and unique blend of different cultures

Mike’s Favourite Chinese Quote

    • [37:37] – 不可思议 – an idiom that means amazing or unbelievable
      • 不(bù) – not
      • 可(kě) – able to
      • 思(sī) – understand
      • 议(yì) – discuss
    • Victor mentioned a Chinese TV show where a guy said this phrase many many times.


Mike’s Advice for Chinese Learners

  • [41:34] – Learning Chinese is one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but don’t give up. The reward of being able to speak with 1.4 billion people is worth the effort
  • [41:51] – A little bit of Chinese goes a long way in China because people know that the language is difficult so they really appreciate your effort

Connect with Mike

  • YouTube:Teacher Mike 麦克老师
  • 工作邮箱: maikelaoshi (AT) gmail (DOT) com
  • 微信公众号: tiantian-english
  • 微博: Real麦克老师 http://t.cn/RISwLXj
  • 美拍: 麦克老师
  • b站: Real麦克老师
  • 有道: 麦克老师

Resources Mentioned:

  • 34:09 – Pleco – Chinese dictionary app
  • [34:22] – YouDao – App that has open-source translations and doesn’t have pinyin so it’s for more advanced learners. It’s more commonly used by Chinese people learning English
  • 36:33 – Book: River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze by Peter Hessler; The author spent a couple years living in China while serving with the Peace Corps and shares his experience with learning Chinese language and culture

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