From a Chinese learner to a Chinese teacher

Written by April Zhang on Wednesday, 22 September 2021. Posted in Student's Posts

From a Chinese learner to a Chinese teacher

This is an inspirational story from a colleague working in a university in Trinidad & Tobago, Janine L. 

Dedicated and hardworking, she shares her past learning experiences and talks about what it took to get to where she is now.

Below is Janine’s story.

Taking the step to learn Mandarin Chinese in 2011 was a decision that changed the entire course of my academic and professional career. I was a university student, still getting used to student life. A friend convinced me to join her in the Chinese class. I was a bit hesitant at first, because I did not think I could learn such a difficult language. My brain had always been wired to gravitate more to Romance languages (Spanish, Portuguese, French), so I really thought Chinese was beyond my skill level. Oh, how I was wrong! I loved every moment of the class and continued to do a few semesters of Chinese courses.   

Studying Chinese was certainly not an easy task. On one hand, I didn’t have access to varied sources of learning materials, and it was difficult to find material without a sense of what to look for. Also, they were very few opportunities to interact with native speakers other than my Chinese teacher. However, I did not let those issues hold back my drive to study the language. I spent a lot of time researching online and I stumbled upon graded readers. I saved up allowance money and purchased some graded readers from the Chinese Breeze series on Amazon. Graded readers are excellent tools for beginners to learn vocabulary, practice character recognition and to observe the sentence structure in a language. Additionally, I used music as a tool to practice pronunciation. I listened to many pop songs from artists such as Han Geng, MIC nantuan and Show Luo. I would look at the lyrics, find the pinyin and practice reciting the lyrics out loud according to the rhythm of the music. This helped me to be able to string together syllables with difficult sounds such as the initial sounds “z”, “s”, “c”, “r”.  

Initially, the characters proved to be a challenge that seemed insurmountable. I had to test out several strategies such as using writing grids and religiously writing each character out several times, flashcards, and memory tactics to associate characters with a relatable concept or image. I really became frustrated if I would get a character wrong in an exam or forget how to write it in a moment when called upon to do. I saw a lot of progress but like many other learners, I think my ability to write out characters has been affected by technology. I primarily type Chinese to write messages or texts to interact with my Chinese friends and colleagues, so the opportunities to really write out characters are limited outside of the classroom. The perfectionist side of me no longer worries too much about this because I resolved that it will always be an aspect of the language that I have to continuously dedicate time to improving.  

My journey as a student culminated in standing on a stage to participate in the first Trinidad and Tobago preliminary round of the Chinese Bridge Chinese Proficiency Competition. My hands shook and I tried my best to calm my nerves. Despite being extremely nervous, I was able to deliver a full-length speech in Chinese and rhythmically recite traditional poetry. My performance honestly shocked me, but it validated that I did have some promise in the language. The prize was an all-expenses-paid trip to China. Getting the opportunity to practice the language on the greatest stage possible was an ongoing test that really helped to increase my confidence and strengthen my language skills.   

Upon returning from my very first trip, I was ready to initiate the next chapter in my life. In 2017, I began training to become a Chinese language teacher. At first, I had to deal with feelings of anxiety and uncertainty, as I was not sure how I would measure up to the new responsibility of conditioning a student’s learning. But I was up for the challenge!  After training, I was thrown into a big position that at first, seemed too hard to fill. This position belonged to my own Chinese teacher (何老师)who was due to return home. I was nervous once again, but I remained driven and hopeful to carry on her legacy. I never got a chance to tell her before she left that I am so thankful to her for nurturing my skills, but I can show it by upkeeping the standards of the programme she helped to build.   

All in all, learning this language has helped to create so many positive memories. As a student, I have travelled and developed an understanding of a new culture. More importantly as a teacher, I get to see my students succeed, make friendships, express their creativity, and make memories of their own.  

About the Author

April Zhang

April Zhang

April Zhang is the founder of MSL Master and the author of two series of Chinese textbooks, Mandarin Express series and Chinese Reading and Writing series, which are highly relevant and very effective for non-Chinese speakers to learn Mandarin Chinese.


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April Zhang
Chinese Teacher
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