Learning Chinese in China. An Interview with Fernando Garcia Albero
Learning Chinese in China
Go Inspired works with Handtrade Mandarin Chinese & Capital Mandarin to send groups of students to China in the summer so they can learn Chinese in China by living there. It is an incredible experience for those who go as it gives them a chance to practice their Chinese in an authentic Chinese environment. They also get to see the popular sights, learn about the culture and meet students from around the world. It is a chance for students to grow in their language skills and overall personal development.
Today we sit down and talk to Fernando Garcia Albero. Fernando is a Spanish 15-year-old who has participated in the program 2 years in a row. Fernando is fluent in Spanish, English and German and has been taking Chinese courses for years. Let’s hear about his experience with studying Chinese in China.
When did you decide to learn Chinese?
When I was younger (a lot younger, about 7), I knew very little about China; I still wonder if I really knew what China was. However, I have always felt thrilled about it, maybe because of the things I had seen in films. I thought of China as a very exciting place, and so, I started learning Chinese back then. On the other hand, because of several reasons, I stopped, but I began once again about three years ago and look at me now! I guess my Chinese is good enough, huh!
In your eyes why is it important to learn Chinese?
Some people do argue that it’s important to learn Chinese because China will “undoubtedly” become the global leader in a couple of years time. I do agree with this, but I personally didn’t decide to learn Chinese because of this, but because I just thought it was “kind of cool”! Anyhow, it is important to learn Chinese, as it is important to learn any other language; to enrich ourselves with knowledge and culture. I’ve always thought that the more languages you speak, the more tolerant you will become, and the better you will be able to understand yourself with people from other cultures (not only because of the language, but because of respect and culture understanding). And, of course, who wouldn’t like to show off by speaking in Chinese!
What is the most difficult part of learning?
Difficult question! Perhaps, I’d say getting used to Chinese is difficult, and so the first months are probably the worst, because, as my teacher would say, you have to learn Chinese three times: the pinyin, the characters and the spoken Chinese! However, once you have the basics, everything flows quite smoothly and the pace at which you learn significantly increases.
What were your first impressions of China (both good and bad) when you went the first time?
For the good, it’s an amazingly rich country, in culture! It’s thrilling to see the people in the streets, acting so differently from how people would act in Europe or in USA. Especially in cities like Beijing, there are many ethnicities combined together, so it is very common to see many different people living together in such diverse environments. At least for me, I already get overwhelmed by standing in the street and watching people pass by; you would be surprised to know how much you learn by doing simple things like that. Of course, we wouldn’t notice, as we are already used to the European ways, but you have to realize the immensity of China and its cultural contrast with us (westerners). You wouldn’t expect to see a skyscraper and wooden carts being pulled right in front of it in Europe, but the socio-economic groups in China live together, one in front of the other, just like that. For the bad, the “excessive” cultural contrast; if you ever go to China, you have to be aware that it’s China, and therefore, their cleaning standards are different from ours. You just have to stay calm before the worrying lack of hygiene, but after some time, you just get used to it. What I can say is that it’s not a threat to health in any way.
What are your favorite things of the Chinese culture?
Simply everything. It’s so different, and so special at the same time, that you never get enough of it! Perhaps, the respect they have towards one another and their consistent effort towards all the tasks they do is something I really appreciate. Maybe because those are the things I’d say we miss, here in Europe… However, you may not understand the Chinese culture in different sections, but it’s all their way of living, combined together, that gives a reason for their actions. The Chinese are an extremely old civilization, and so they have a great legacy and culture behind them (or in front of them, as they would say) making them, from my point of view, one of the most intriguing cultures you could ever learn about.
Does the chinese food in Spain taste the same in China?
Of course not! Chinese food in Spain is an artificial invention, that they say to be Chinese, which isn’t. It is perhaps a redefined version (or more likely completely altered version) of Chinese food, so that we may like it. In reality, when you go to China, and truly eat Chinese food, you will be delighted by their gorgeous flavors. Call me crazy, but I prefer true Chinese food than Spanish food; furthermore, their way of cooking is incredibly more healthy than ours!
What products do you buy when you are in China?
Everything except electronics (unless you go to an official shop, in which case is the same quality as European, but with equal price too!). The good thing about China is that everything is produced there, and so the country has become something like a giant outlet. The products with small mistakes are usually resold at places like the Silk Market, for say 5 euro a T-shirt (from a well recognised brand, of course!). Falsification is still very present, and so I do recommend you not to buy any electronics, as it is something that could be dangerous (especially batteries); you know you’re buying bad quality (although some is good); but if you’re in necessity, don’t trouble too much if you need to buy some headphones, that’ll be ok.
Why would you recommend someone studying in China?
I believe that the best way to learn a language is to go to the country they speak it in. Like that, you will be totally be submerged within the culture and the people, therefore maximising the learning. You could learn Chinese in an academy, but the experience will be totally different, and you’ll take more time to learn the same level and, if after that you ever plan to go to China, you might not be understood, due to poor pronunciation or a lack of knowledge about the local dialect or customs. The one way you can truly be sure that you learn Chinese is by learning it in China! This is, in my opinion, good advice for everyone, however, a person my age should particularly take note of this, as it is at this age that we may expand our knowledge the most. They say (and it’s true) that the older you get, the more difficult it becomes to learn new languages, and we can see this with babies, that very soon are capable of speaking a language. Because of this, I insist on taking the opportunity and using your time wisely, because if you learn Chinese now, you will appreciate it in the near future! I hope you take the right decision!