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Speaking My Languages

At my media job, all our staff is fluent in Chinese and English, and many speak other languages. If I’m honest, learning a new language has made me feel a little less left out

By Sam Duckett Updated Aug.1

So you’ve mastered Chinese, passed the HSK exam, and become the talk of the town among your social circles. What next? A few years ago, I had the idea to utilize my Chinese skills as a tool to learn another foreign language, and it turned out to be a fantastic and equally challenging experience.  

When I say “utilize my Chinese skills,” I mean exactly that. My intention was to solely rely on the tools and resources available to me in China, refraining from using learning materials from the UK. This experience proved to be quite challenging but also offered a unique sense of fulfillment, pushing my Mandarin comprehension further and serving as a testament to the years of hard work I had put in.  

I decided to study Japanese, which, along with Korean, is among the better choices for Mandarin speakers. If you visit any Japanese language forum, you're likely to come across common complaints like “I want to learn Japanese, but kanji is too hard.” However, I vividly remember diving into a Japanese textbook for the first time and quickly realizing that kanji literally means Chinese characters, or hanzi. Upon realizing that my Chinese was going to give me a real advantage, I felt a sense of comfort and relief.  

It’s not just the shared use of kanji; the pronunciation of many Japanese words is also derived from Chinese. Combine this with the cultural similarities in daily conversations, and the daunting task of learning a new language suddenly seems much more manageable.  

From a professional standpoint, learning a new language in China can have a positive impact on your career prospects as well. In the best-case scenario, you’ll be able to incorporate your new skillset into your profession, whether that’s in the media, working for a foreign company, or pursuing a job in translation. Even if you’re unable to directly use your new language professionally, having demonstrated a strong work ethic and language-learning abilities will be highly valued by Chinese employers. For instance, at my media job, all our staff is fluent in Chinese and English, and many speak other languages. If I’m honest, learning a new language has made me feel a little less left out.  

China provides a wealth of exceptional language resources designed to facilitate learning and boost students’ confidence during exams. While preparing for the Japanese language exam, I purchased prerecorded lessons on Taobao and was blown away by the teaching quality. The popular online teacher, Yezi Laoshi, offered vivid examples, an approachable teaching style, clear explanations, and even took the time to message me directly to address any questions I had. I can confidently say that finding a better online course in the UK would have been a struggle.  

In addition to the excellent selection of online and offline classes, foreign language learning often forms the foundation for many popular online influencers in China. After following a dozen new content creators, I found that incorporating a new language seamlessly integrated into my everyday life. I enjoyed swiping through various tips and short lessons during my coffee break or on the subway. It also became a fantastic way to ask questions, connect with like-minded individuals, and make new friends with similar interests.  

Despite all the advantages of studying a foreign language in China, there are also a few disadvantages. Securing an exam spot or enrolling in offline classes at a reputable school can be incredibly difficult due to the sheer number of applicants. The stress of applying for the Japanese proficiency exam still haunts me to this day. Additionally, not having a Chinese ID card made the application process even more complex. I had to directly contact the exam sector to register on the website and book an exam spot.  

This is solely my perspective, but I firmly believe that learning a new foreign language can have significant mental benefits for any expat residing in China. While I don’t currently have any specific future goals that involve taking on major academic challenges, I feel incredibly grateful to have found a learning environment in Beijing that has motivated me to become a better version of myself. I’m confident that when the time comes for me to embrace a new challenge, I will be well-prepared and self-assured in this environment.