Interview with Online 19th International Speech Contest Winners

A chance to learn from others, an opportunity to practice formal Chinese, and a means of staying motivated. Our three winners of the May 8th Dutch final of the Online 19th International Chinese Speech Contest chose to participate for different reasons, but they all share a desire to deeply understand China’s language and culture. Nol, Adam, and Daniël were recently interviewed by CIM interns on everything from their path to studying Chinese to the funniest language mistake they’ve made. In this article we share with you insights from these developing Chinese speakers on their journey to language-learning success.

On Humble Beginnings…

Our three winners first encountered Chinese in different stages of their lives. At age 8, Daniël became fascinated with the “unknown” element of China and wanted to learn the language as a means of communicating with more people and making new friends. He started out practicing for 15 minutes a day as a child and today he continues to maintain a daily study schedule.

Adam stumbled upon China when he was 15. He heard an enchanting Chinese song on Youtube which launched his interest in the country. He notes, “I completely fell in love with China and it became my dream to learn more about the language and the culture and the history.” After spending some time in China, he decided to take the next step and enroll in Hogeschool Zuyd’s Oriental Languages and Communications program.

First-prize winner Nol started studying Chinese as an extracurricular in high school, citing enthusiastic teachers and an exciting program as his reasons for doing so. His participation in these classes boosted his interest in Chinese and he continued to pursue the language throughout high school and university. The spark to learn more about the language brought all three participants thousands of kilometers away to experience China for themselves.

On Traveling to China…

When he was just 12 years old, Daniël traveled to China for the first time with his Chinese teacher from the Netherlands. While this is very young, Daniel appreciated the early experience saying, “It was really a highlight spending time with people in their home while eating all sorts of different food and getting to know how they interact with each other.” Nol traveled to China via the Netherlands Asia Honors Summer School where he spent two months taking Chinese classes and experiencing culture in Sichuan. This experience allowed him to practice his language skills on a daily basis and really focus on perfecting the small details. Adam traveled to China as an au-pair. While living with a Chinese family, he got to experience firsthand the intricacies of Chinese culture–he was especially enthusiastic about the delicious hotpot he tried!

On the Funny Parts of Learning Chinese…

Learning a new language isn’t always easy, and spending time where the language is spoken can highlight that. Part of the learning process is making mistakes and learning from them. Nol shared the following story: “I told a friend that I wanted to go to the panda observatory in Chengdu. But instead of saying xióngmāo, I said xiōngmáo, which means chest hair so it took him some time and he started laughing “oh you mean panda.” Rest assured he’ll never forget how to say panda again!

On the other hand, living in a foreign environment allows language learners to pick up on language patterns and slang words that aren’t typically described in textbooks. Adam appreciated the word xing (行)which basically means “okay/sure.” Daniel learned about nage (那个)which is equivalent to “um” in English. Nol was often asked Chi fan le ma? (吃饭了吗?), or have you eaten? Food is really an integrative part of Chinese culture and there is nowhere better to experience that than in China itself!

On How to Stay Motivated…

The jury, participants, and CIM staff alike were impressed by the winners’ comfort and skill in the language. But how did they get to that point?

Nol, Adam, and Daniël shared that they try to incorporate studying Chinese into their daily lives. This can include looking at HSK materials, listening to Chinese music, writing characters, using a language-learning app, or speaking to Chinese friends. The important part is to have a system that helps you to learn Chinese in a strategic and effective way.

As accomplished Chinese speakers, our winners were happy to share what they would have told themselves as beginning Chinese students. Nol shared, “My first point of advice is to take the tones seriously and do it the right way to form the start. Of course, my Chinese teachers also told me this, but I was too stubborn.” Adam expressed the importance of having Chinese resources, “You have to have an environment around you that speaks Chinese. That can either be by music, tv shows or if your school has a Confucius Institute, to go to the institute and talk to the teachers there.”  Daniël noted the importance of motivation to learn the language: “If you only study Chinese because you want to do it for your career it’s nice but if you want to do it to connect to people and make friends it would really help you to learn it on the long run.” These are great tips that we hope beginning Chinese students will take to heart when they are frustrated with tones or characters!

On the Future…

And as to whether they plan to use Chinese in their careers? A resounding yes from all three winners. Nol plans to pursue a PhD in Chemistry where he will use Chinese to interact with colleagues and other researchers. Adam is looking forward to finishing his studies at Zuyd and one day moving to China to work and live. Daniël is starting a Master’s in Supply Chain Management in the fall where he will use his Chinese to reflect on China’s changing role in the business world.

We are so excited to see what these three bright gentlemen will accomplish in their future! 加油 Adam, Nol, and Daniël! All the best for what’s ahead.

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