Olivia Wolfheart has been taking part in our Mandarin Chinese course as a member of the public since October 2021. In this guest blog, she explains her motivation for and experience of learning the language.
For many years I've been interested in learning Chinese. My father is Malaysian Chinese but I never learnt the language when I was younger. Recently I’ve connected more with my Eastern heritage and the interest in learning Chinese has intensified.
To be honest I had previously thought learning a language outside of the English alphabet would be too difficult. However, during lockdown I began learning some basic Korean and found the foundations of Hangul wasn’t too hard so the mental barrier of learning a new system was somewhat lifted.
I started looking around for some local Chinese classes but since I live in rural Gloucestershire I couldn’t find anything close by. After searching online I came across the University of Bath Skills Centre course, and this looked ideal.
It was an online course for beginners, for 10 weeks in the evening – it would be easy for me to fit this in around work and there was no need to travel. I also noticed they offered a few different levels, so I’d have the option to continue after the beginners course. Everything about the course really suited me so I booked without hesitation.
The enrolment process itself was really straightforward. After this, we received some communication directly from the teacher about the textbook we would need to buy and also instructions on how to access the online course materials which were provided by the university.
As a member of the public I didn’t have a university email address, so they set one up for me so I could access the Moodle materials and the Teams channel and all of this was a very smooth process.
I didn’t really know what to expect from the course. It’s been a long time since I’d done any formal learning and to be honest, I was a bit nervous! When my textbook arrived, I flicked through the pages and felt quite daunted – I just saw all these Chinese characters on the pages and wondered if I would ever understand it.
The in-class experience
The lessons themselves each contain a good mix of speaking, listening, reading and writing so they suit all different learning styles. Being able to access the class materials ahead of the lesson means you can prepare everything in advance which is really reassuring, there are no surprises!
The weekly homework tasks are a good recap of what was covered in the lesson. The homework is always marked and then the answers and any common mistakes are reviewed at the start of the next class. The lessons are run at a good pace and the teacher is always happy to answer all our questions.
As a member of the public I think the experience of being in the class with university students is really refreshing. It’s good to spend some time with other people who enjoy learning and it gives me motivation as well.
I also really like the way our teacher builds in time to cover cultural points as well as the language itself. Culture and language are often quite intertwined, and I think everyone in the class enjoyed learning about the cultural aspects as it enriches the lesson even further.
I honestly never thought I'd be able to get to this level of ability with Chinese language but the hardest part for me is recognising the characters. To tackle this, I started learning some of the individual Chinese radicals (the graphical base component of a Chinese character) during the Christmas break. I bought a set of revision cards and created flashcards with the radical on one side and the pinyin and English translation on the other side.
This helped me in two ways, firstly it helped me really start to recognise and tell the difference between Chinese characters and secondly it helped me with context (for example, the radical for feather appears in the word for badminton (羽毛球 yǔmáo qiú, literally feather ball), so I could recognise this when we were learning about sports and infer the meaning of the word).
As there's no exam to work towards, my experience learning Chinese has been less stressful than my other experiences learning languages, because it’s really relaxed and there’s no pressure. I also think the teacher makes a big difference. Our teacher clearly has a genuine passion for languages and that rubs off onto us.
Chinese is the most challenging language I have learnt but our teacher has said many times in class: ‘See, learning Chinese is easy!’ and somehow it does feel easy with her.
Continuing the language journey
My tips for learners of Chinese would be firstly, practise loads! Set aside time to review previous class notes and also to prepare for the next class.
Secondly, try and use a diverse range of materials. I've supplemented my learning with watching Chinese shows on Netflix, as well as listening to the occasional Chinese podcast and engaging with Chinese social media including YouTube videos and a social networking app called Little Red Book (小红书
xiǎo hóng shū). This means you get used to different voices, different fonts, different contexts and so on.
I hope to continue my Chinese learning journey with the University of Bath. I aim to review the content from the previous two modules over the summer and plan to continue on to the lower intermediate class in the autumn.
If you’re considering learning a language with the Skills Centre, I would say – go for it!