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2 Brits Speaking Fluent Chinese – George’s China Story

[This video is in Chinese – to see the subtitles, move your mouse over the video and click on the 4th icon from the right. The full translation is below]

Click here to check out George’s Kungfu English on Wechat: classic kung fu short stories brought to you in English 🙂

Chris: Ok, hi everybody, and in this video I’ve got my friend George with me, who’s visiting here in Beijing, and I thought we’d just do a quick video and I’d ask him some questions in Chinese.

So let’s get going!

Ok, so first of all, let me ask you, When did you start learning Chinese? Why were you so interested in Chinese?

George: I had always been interested in foreign languages, but I started to get interested in Chinese when I was about 17 years old. I remember that at the end of a French class, I don’t remember why, that day our teacher suddenly started to talk about China.She was talking about economics and the rise of China, and I hadn’t really paid attention to that before, but it made me think that I had never thought about China before, and I thought I should
learn a bit about it.

Chris: So it was because you were interested in languages, or because you were interested in China as a country?

George: A bit of both really. At the beginning I was very curious. I just thought: “why have I grown up without paying any attention to this place?”

Chris: “Grown so old? haha”

George: For a 17 year old, 17 years is a long time! That was almost 10 years ago. But, in fact, in history classes or language classes, the only choices were European languages like French, Spanish or sometimes Russian or Japanese in some other schools, but mostly it was just French.

I really wanted to learn a new language and just at that time my French teacher inspired me.

Chris: So you became interested in Chinese..

George: Yes

Chris: What was the biggest challenge as you were learning Chinese?

George: There were always a lot of challenges. At the beginning, the first time I came to China, listening was a problem. I couldn’t understand anything!

Chris: We’ve all felt like that!

George: You’ve had that experience too..

Chris: So when was the first time you came to China?

George: After high school, I didn’t go to university straight away. I worked in London for a while, then I went to Qingdao, and taught there.

Chris: So could you speak Chinese when you got to Qingdao?

George: I had taught myself a few sentences, but it was very awkward. I could only say the most basic things, because when I was in the UK before I left school I would sometimes go online and learn a bit of Chinese. For example there was a site zhongwen.com

Chris: Yes, I know it

George: And there was a new character every day, and I tried to recognise some characters, but when I arrived in China, I couldn’t really speak it.

Chris: So how did you adjust to this environment, like the language, and some of the differences between China and the UK?

George: I was in a good environment when I got to China. I lived with a Chinese family, so I went to work in the day teaching English, but after work I lived with them, eating Chinese food and I started to learn some basic things.

I remember, at the first meal we had I started to learn things: “What is this? For example, ‘chopsticks’, ‘cup,’ and I remember I learnt a lot, because everything was new to me

Chris: So you learnt from living there? Because you lived with a Chinese family and learnt a lot of things.

I know a lot of people coming to China are interested in Chinese food, so do you like the food as well? Is that something that attracted you?

George: Yes, because China is a huge country and every place has its own food: Cantonese food, Sichuanese food, Peking roast duck, everywhere is different.

Chris: You can’t finish it all!

George: In Shaanxi you find a lot of noodles.

Chris: So what do you like to eat most?

George: Actually, that changes.

Chris: What about now?

George: Right now, because I live in Shanghai and near my house there is a Shaanxi noodle house, so I like to eat the cold noodles there, the biang biang noodles.

Chris: I don’t know if it is the same in Shanghai as in Beijing, every 100m there are so many restaurants, and a lot of different choices. You can get food from all over China in Beijing.

George: Yes, a bit of everything.

Chris: And I know you did a master’s degree in China, and it was in Shanghai,
so I want to ask you: what is the environment and life like there for students?

George: When I started my master’s, after my undergraduate degree, I went
directly to Shanghai for my master’s. it felt very different because when we were undergraduates we were all ‘foreigners’ living the same lifestyle. And we were all studying Chinese, so we all going through it togethe.

But when I got to Shanghai it was very different, because I was studying with local Chinese students. Our subject was the same, but in terms of lifestyle I felt a bit distant from them.

Chris: So have you made a lot of local friends now?

George: Yes, and I keep in touch with old classmates.

Chris: So you’ve integrated into life here? Or you’ve made some local friends to hang out with.

George: Yeah, because it was different to my experience as an undergraduate
before, when we studied in Qingdao or Beijing, we were with other foreign classmates, but when I was in Shanghai I was in the same position as the local students, studying translation.

Chris: So you mean, as an undergraduate you were always studying with foreigners or English people, so your lifestyles were more like being in the UK, and you wouldn’t make so many local friends, but later it was different because you were all studying the same thing, and you were living in the university so through that experience you made a lot of local friends

George: Yeah.

Chris: And I also know you have studied translation and interpreting, translation from Chinese to English. Chinese and English are very different language, so was it really difficult, especially interpreting?

George: It is really difficult, I can’t mislead everybody! I think interpreting and translation both have their challenges and difficult points, but they suit people of different personalities.

Both translation and interpreting require a very high level of both languages – your native language and the foreign language A lot of people may forget this. If you are Chinese and you want to be a good translator you don’t just need to have good English but also good Chinese – your own native language,
because whether you are doing translation or interpretation, for example if you are translating into your native language, if you are not practised in your native language, then how can you translate into it?

Chris: So did you find that after you started studying interpreting in China, you had to work on your English as well?

George: Yes, and you need to have a good general knowledge

Chris: And I know it can be pretty tiring doing interpreting. You are always looking for the right word, or there are words that you don’t know, or you don’t know how to translate them, and your brain is constantly working. It can be pretty tiring, right?

George: Yeah, and this is why interpretation and translation are suited to people of different personalities, because if you do interpreting you have that ‘live’ feel and the pressure, and you can be nervous, but if you do written translation, then it’s very different. You have time to think it over slowly, and you can think about everything in more detail.

Chris: Right. And since you are in China you must have been to quite a few places, because it’s such a huge place, and there are so many places you can visit, not just Beijing, Shanghai the pandas, Chengdu, Chongqing. How many places have you been to? What’s your favourite place?

George: I’m losing count of the number of places I’ve been to. There have
been a lot, but mostly I’ve been to places on the east coast. I’ve spent longer periods in Qingdao and Shanghai.

Chris: Yeah, we both really like Qingdao. I haven’t spent much time in Beijing. Have you seen the Terracotta Warriors?

George: Yeah.

Chris: And the pandas?

George: I’ve seen the Terracotta Warriors twice. I went there again recently.

Chris: The Great Wall?

George: Yeah, and I’ve been to different sections of it.

Chris: So you’ve been to all the places you’ve got to visit, then?

George: Not really.

Chris: Is there anywhere you really want to visit that you haven’t been to yet?

George: Yeah, there are a lot of places. I think it’s a problem of publicity. A lot of the smaller places haven’t received enough publicity.

Chris: For example we probably know about the giant pandas, and the Terracotta Warriors, and the Great Wall, but we don’t know so much about the inland places, or the northwest parts of China, that may also be worth visiting, but people outside China don’t really know.

George: I think it is a publicity problem, because each place has its own cuisine, and many of the smaller places or the under developed areas may have places worth visiting.

Chris: So you have to go backpacking or travelling, and find more of the
undiscovered places.

All right, so finally let’s talk about employment opportunities in China for foreigners. What kind of opportunities are there? Particularly for people who can speak Chinese..

George: I think if you get good at Chinese then there are a lot of opportunities. If your native language is English then there are also a lot of opportunities, but if you study Chinese then it’s a huge market, whatever industry you’re in. As long as you have good ideas or good products.

Chris: So what areas could people consider?

George: Of course, I hope more people will come and do translation, because there’s a real need for it. But the foreigners I’ve met who can speak Chinese are doing jobs like translation, working in the media and also teaching, a lot of people doing teaching. Some people are teaching English, some teach translation, some teach their own language, like French.

Because you can talk about Chinese ‘soft power’ or however you define it. I hope that there will be more contact with the outside world and there will be a demand for more Chinese people who can speak French or other languages to act as a bridge and spread Chinese culture

Chris: And ‘go global’. Haha

Ok maybe I’ll switch back to English now for the ending, in case everybody’s feeling a bit lost. Yeah, so thanks for doing this little interview with me George, and I hope everybody enjoyed it.

If you’re learning Chinese,hopefully you were able to understand some of what George was saying.

And I’ll see you again next time. Bye for now!