Over the eight years that I’ve lived in China, I’ve had various ways to try to continue to learn the Chinese language. I’ve always been a full-time teacher while in China, so I’ve never been a full-time student. So for the most part I’ve just been studying on my own over the years, but the Lord has certainly given me a consistent zeal and fervor to study the language.
When I first arrived in China in August ’05 I spent the first few months just learning basic vocab & trying to memorize it & practice it around with the locals. Then in December of that year I started to volunteer at a Chinese restaurant there called Red Eagle. I’d only been in China for a few months at that time so my Chinese wasn’t too good. I thought if I could work at the Chinese restaurant I could be surrounded by Chinese speakers all the time, because all the workers at the restaurant couldn’t speak any English. So I started working there as a waiter/busboy, just cleaning off the tables & carrying plates of food to the tables. They didn’t pay me except a bowl of noodles every once in a while. I continued to work at Red Eagle for a whole year, working about 15 hours/week. Having this experience helped my Chinese listening & speaking immensely & I also started learning lots of the characters. Also there were doors for me to share the gospel with the Chinese workers at the restaurant. This working at Red Eagle really helped me build a strong foundation in the language my first year in China.
In January ’06, after I’d been in China for about 6 months, I started to learn writing by a book called ‘Ms. Zhang Teaches Writing’. Once I started learning the characters, I couldn’t stop it. I loved studying them so much. My favorite pastime was to go to the study room early in the morning & study Chinese characters from about 6:30 am till noon on any day I didn’t have morning classes. Through writing characters for about 15-20 hours per week & working at the Red Eagle for 15 hours/week, I was able to learn a lot of Chinese in the first year. Though I stopped working at Red Eagle after about a year, I continued writing Chinese characters for many hours each week for about a two year period.
I’ve learned that I never reach any ‘point’ where I just feel totally comfortable in Chinese. There’s always room for improvement, so I’m always studying in various ways.
A couple other things I’ve done over the years to continue improving in the language.
1. listen to Chinese radio [try to write down & look up words I don’t know]
2. try to speak Chinese to people throughout each day [i.e. supermarket, bus, train, campus, etc.]
3. taking the HSK [Chinese proficiency exam] a couple times has forced me to learn grammar & vocab that I wouldn’t have otherwise learned
4. watch Chinese sitcoms [家有儿女] & movies [favorite Chinese movie remains the first 人在囧途]
5. read Chinese Bible — for a whole year tried to read Chinese New Testament for about an hour a day
6. learn Chinese pop songs[ [王力宏，周杰伦，方大同] sing at home or at KTV] or Chinese praise & worship songs [一切歌颂赞美]
7. worked at Chinese restaurant Red Eagle [红鹰] 15 hours/wk for a whole year
8. Using ‘Ms. Zhang teaches Writing’ to spend tons of hours writing characters
I’m excited to get back to studying Chinese again after just studying Greek & Hebrew this last year : )