10/21/17

Week of a Chinese Teacher Entrepreneur

I was just reading a blog post by a Finnish blogger where she listed all the work related things she did that week, I wondered it would be fun to do the same! Recently I’ve also noticed that many people are quite surprised to hear that as a foreigner I’m teaching Mandarin Chinese full time here in Guangzhou.

Lets see how a typical week of a Chinese teacher and entrepreneur is like!

 

Sunday and Monday

 

My husband’s very first carved pumpkin!

These are my days off and I spend them with my family. I occasionally prepare for lessons in the evenings after our daughter is asleep, but most weekends I feel asleep the same time as she does.

 

Tuesday

 

Learning Chinese characters

8:00 I arrive to the office every day between 8:00 and 8:20, I eat breakfast and prepare for the lessons.

8:45-9:45 I have my first lesson of the day, a private lessons with a beginner level student.

10:00-11:00 Chinese Characters 2 course with three students. We review the character components we have learned so far. As a homework I give them a short story to read.

11:00-12:15 Lunch hour while preparing for the coming lessons. Usually lunch takes half an hour and the rest of the time I can prepare classes.

12:15-13:15 First lesson with a new students. We do a HSK mock test to determine her level.

13:30-15:00 Surprisingly I have a Finnish lesson every Tuesday! Two students, one of them married a Finn and another one has a Finnish boyfriend. Finnish lessons always takes more time to prepare than Chinese lessons.

15:30-16:30 Last private lesson of the day with a HSK4 level student.

After lessons I hurry to the daycare to pick up Anna or if my husband picks her up, I use the last hour to prepare for lessons.

 

Wednesday

 

Lots of HSK3 students on Wednesdays

8:00 I arrive to the office and have breakfast.

8:30-9:30 First private lesson of the day, we are studying characters because she wants to take HSK3 in the future.

9:30-11:00 Second private student is soon reaching HSK3 level and we are progressing fast with the textbook.

11:00-12:00 Early lunch

12:00-13:30 A HSK3 group class got cancelled and I use the time to write my blog and prepare for other lessons.

13:30-14:30 Wednesdays are full of HSK3, another private lesson with level three student.

14:45-15:45 Private lesson with a HSK4 level student. She tells me good news in Chinese, she got a job offer!

After class I again prepare for coming lessons. Our daughter is sick at home with my husband so I go straight home.

 

Thursday

 

Professional Women Night Out

Thursday mornings I often participate in Guangzhou Women’s International Club (GWIC) events, if no events that day, I use it to prepare lessons, write WeChat articles or blog posts.

13:30-14:30 Private lesson with a HSK4 student, she has two lessons every week.

14:30-15:30 Private lesson with a beginner student, also two lessons each week.

15:30-16:30 Another private lesson with a student. Today we learned how she can communicate with her ayi (cleaning lady)

I stay at the office preparing for lessons and go to an evening networking event organized by GWIC.

 

Friday

 

Most of my students take HSK to reach goals

8:15 I arrive to the office and have breakfast as always, then I prepare for lessons.

9:45-10:45 Beginners group with three students, we started learning how to order coffee at a coffee shop.

11:00-12:00 A group lessons was cancelled so I use the extra time to have early lunch.

12:15-13:15 Group class of two students who have passed the HSK1 and are planning to take HSK2.

13:30-15:00 A private lesson with student at HSK3 level, she also takes lessons twice a week.

After classes I prepare for lessons and go pick up our daughter from daycare.

 

Saturday

 

GWIC Shoe and Bag Sale

8:00 I arrive at the office and have breakfast.

9:00-10:30 First private lesson of the day with a HSK4 student, she will be taking the exam in December.

Between lessons I rush to the bakery to get something to eat.

11:00-12:00 A group of teachers studying beginner level Chinese, usually their lessons is later on the day, but tonight they have special plans. We learn how to take a taxi in Chinese.

12:00-13:00 Second private lesson today where we learn time words in Chinese.

13:30-14:30 A second group of teachers, we learn how to order coffee in Chinese.

After classes I visit another GWIC event, this time a charity market. After the event I buy lunch/dinner from the supermarket and come back to the office to rest, prepare for lessons and write this blog post.

Later tonight I have another networking event organized by InterNations, after that it’s finally a weekend for me!


Besides what I listed above, I also use time to write lesson feedback of all the lessons I have taught and also make sure that the part time teachers working for me have written their feedbacks as well. I also keep an eye on the progress of the students that I don’t teach personally and offer guidance to the teachers. Lots of time goes to lessons planning and creating extra exercises for students according to their needs. Answering questions of old, new and possible students takes time as well. Luckily my husband is now helping me with management and finances of the company so I can concenterate on teaching and improving the quality of education.

That’s it! Next week is gonna be even busier, so lets have a good rest this weekend!

11/5/16

Chinese group lessons in Guangzhou

Sharing useful phrases with my students

Sharing useful phrases with my students

While working as a private Chinese teaching in Guangzhou I’ve noticed the good effect of small group lessons, especially for spoken Chinese. At the moment I have two groups, one for complete beginners and other for elementary level students who have passed the survival level already.

My beginner Chinese group class just started last week and I was super excited to see how my students were speaking in Chinese with each other! Learning a new language as an adult can feel like an impossible task at times and I very well understand the nervousness of using your language skills to converse with the locals.

I have students who are afraid to speak Chinese cause they are worried not being understood or they have been discouraged with too many corrections while trying to use their newly learned Mandarin. I’m actually in the same boat with my Cantonese! I can understand a bit and speak even less, so I have been too shy to actually use it in real life.

This is the reason why I started beginner Chinese group class, to work as a stepping stone between classroom and the real world. Offering a friendly and encouraging environment to try out your Mandarin and get more confidence. And even in one hour we saw huge breakthroughs and everyone was so excited to be speaking Chinese no matter how many phrases they know.

My other group is for elementary students and there we dive into more complex topics like discussing hobbies, sharing travel memories or playing verbal games to get our Chinese to the next level. After learning words and grammar, it’s time for these students to experiment with their skills and increase their spoken vocabulary. After practising at class, they feel more ready to have a real conversation with locals.

If you are interested in these Chinese group lessons in Guangzhou, just send me an email!

08/16/16

Chinese lessons in Guangzhou are continuing in September

Learn Chinese in Guangzhou

I’ve gotten emails asking when do I resume teaching Chinese and I thought it’s best to share the plans in a blog post as well. Chinese lessons are continuing in September!

I’ll arrive back to Guangzhou a bit earlier than planned, on the first week of September. After that I’ll need to find a nanny and then I can continue teaching Mandarin. My estimate is that I can continue lessons in mid-September.

I’ll be offering one on one or small group lessons for beginners and elementary level students. Most of my students are keen to learn the basics of spoken Chinese but I have students who are fascinated by the Chinese characters as well. In any case the lessons are always tailored to your personal needs with a flexible schedule.

If you want more information about Chinese lessons in Guangzhou or want to book a meeting with me, get in touch through my contact form!

06/25/15

No matter how hard it might feel, you can learn to speak Chinese

情 Character

How is it like to learn a second language as an adult is a question I encounter with on a daily basis when teaching my students Chinese. I started learning Chinese when I was 20, but before that I already had experience in learning a foreign language. I started English at 9 years old, German at 11 and Swedish when I was 13. But how is it like for adults who start their very first foreign language and it happens to be Chinese?

First an article on Hacking Chinese came to my mind: You might be too lazy to learn Chinese, but you’re not too old. Olle reminds as that even though it’s easier for children to master the pronunciation of a new language , we adults are much smarter and thus are much better at learning. What we should learn from kids though is that they don’t give up and they aren’t afraid to make mistakes.

We adults often expect results way too quickly and get frustrated when we don’t learn a new skill right away. Remember that learning anything new takes time and effort, so does Chinese, and don’t be afraid to make lots of mistakes along the way.

Speaking of confidence, a blog post from Sinoplice, Confidence and Tones, reminds us how important it is to be confident in your studies. The perfect balance is with having the correct information (knowing the correct pronunciation) and being confident enough to open your mouth and say those words out loud. Children aren’t afraid to speak up so we should definitely learn from them!

I didn’t learn the Chinese pronunciation well when I started. Our teacher just made us listen and repeat after a CD recoding for hours and hours, without explaining why we were learning this way. She didn’t explain where and how all these new sounds should be pronounced in our mouths. She didn’t correct our tones enough and let us get away with bad pronunciation.

When I came to China I noticed that it could take me 5 minutes to try to order yì bēi shŭi one glass of water just because my pronunciation was so terrible. During the years I’ve noticed plenty of foreigners complaining how the Chinese don’t understand their Chinese, I felt the same way at first. But then I realized that it’s my fault, my pronunciation just wasn’t good enough to allow the listener to easily understand me.

Learning Chinese pronunciation is tricky, it takes lots of time and effort, but the good news are, that after you master it (or become good enough), learning Chinese becomes much easier. At first it may seem like that you never learn those difficult initials like j, q, x or zh, ch, sh, but that’s not true. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, study hard and you will notice how native speakers start to understand you.

It may take a while to get that first feeling of accomplishment, but trust me, it feels great! One day you realize the taxi drive understood where you were going, the waitress got your order right and you just said your very first spontaneous Chinese sentence without translating it first in your head.

John from Sinoplice describes learning Chinese in 5 stages, starting from “Ching-chong-ching”. At this first stage Chinese seems something completely alien to you. How could these sounds be learned? And how is it even possible to recognize the different tones, do they even matter? After learning Chinese for a while, with a good teacher, a learner will gradually realize that Chinese is a language just like any other language (Stage 2). You start to understand that for the Chinese the difference between mā with a first tone and mà with a fourth tone is as big as the difference between A and B letters is for us.

I wish that my students don’t make the same mistakes as I did and think the tones or correct pronunciation doesn’t matter. Yes, Chinese will understand you Xièxie (thank you) and fāpiào (incoive) no matter how poorly you utter them, just  because these are the two words they are used to hearing from a foreigner’s mouth. But try something else and you find yourself having communication trouble.

We also have difficulties with non-native speakers of our own languages if their pronunciation is way off, it’s the same with Chinese. English and Chinese just happen to be quite different languages so it takes a bit more effort to nail the pronunciation. So let’s make it easier for us and for the listener and learn those new sounds. Just like a kid, don’t be afraid to make mistakes!

Now after learning Chinese for 6+ years I finally understand how valuable it is to listen to the advice or advanced learners like Olle from Hacking Chinese and John from Sinoplice. They have gone through the journey, made the mistakes and are sharing their wisdom on how to avoid those mistakes our selves.

As a final word for this not so coherent blog post, I would like to say that don’t give up. No matter how hard it might seem in the beginning, you can learn to speak Chinese. No matter if it’s your first or fifth foreign language, you are never too old to learn new things. Advance on your own speed, but take an advantage of the tips of other learners.

Good luck! Study hard!

04/25/15

How to find time to study Chinese

I’ve been a full-time student of Chinese for five years now, but it’s rarely a situation most learners of Chinese are. For example my students are either busy working or staying at home with their active kids that demand most of their time. Often it’s hard to find enough time for studying Chinese.

Do you really want to learn Chinese?

The first problem to solve is if you really want to make time for Chinese or not. For many the idea of learning Chinese is intriguing and they know knowing Chinese would help their daily lives in China, but unfortunately that isn’t necessarily enough for motivating your self to actually make time for studying. So do you actually want to learn Chinese and do you find it interesting enough to slot time for it in your daily life?

Chinese is a fascinating language, it has captivated my life for six and half years now, or even more depending how you count. It’s such a different language from European languages and is part of a culture I find very interesting. But not everyone comes to China to fulfill a childhood dream. Many of us come here to work or accompany a working spouse.

Of course it’s possible to learn Chinese without being interested in it, but according to my experience it’s hard to keep up the motivation if you find the language boring or unnecessary.

Lets look at the reasons why learning Chinese is beneficial when you live in China.

Why to learn Chinese?

It is totally possible to live in China without knowing any Chinese besides nihao and xiexie, I know foreigners that have been doing that for years. So why should you learn Chinese then?

From the practical point of view, for many expats they soon find out that the taxi drivers don’t speak any English at all. During my five years in Guangzhou I’ve met one taxi driver that knew three sentences in English. As taking the taxi is a common way of transport for many foreigners, it comes handy to learn some related phrases and words. Makes your commuting a much more pleasant experience.

Talking with a driver or ayi. Nowadays there are English-speaking drivers and ayis (cleaners and nannies) available for expats, but often their language skills might be lacking. If you learn even a bit of Chinese, it helps you to communicate with them and also to get to know those daily helpers better. You can learn a lot about the city and the culture from them!

Shopping and haggling the prices is also a valid reason to learn Chinese. No matter if you are grocery shopping or hunting for gifts to take back home, knowing the numbers and relevant phrases in Chinese is a must. You might get along with a calculator at first, but miscommunications often happen without a common language. Chinese skills can also help you to negotiate a better price!

One important reason to learn Chinese is also to step out the expat bubble and experience the new culture around you. Living in China is an exciting experience for the whole family, sometimes accompanied with a culture shock. Understating the people and the culture helps you to tackle Bad China Days, and learning the language is the first step.

I recently met a fellow Finn living in Guangzhou and I was amazed by her adventurous mind. Her son goes to school where there isn’t a metro station nearby, so she was wondering what is the best way to take him to school and back. She noticed there is a bus stop next to hear home and the school, with one bus with the same number. She hopped in and found a quick and easy bus route to her son’s school! Now she is looking forward to learn Chinese and get to know the city even better.

How to find time to learn Chinese?

Now that you might have a rising interest towards Mandarin Chinese and during your first weeks or months in China you noticed it’s both useful and important to learn for living in China, how do you actually make time for studying?

Take group lessons at a language school or schedule a private tutor every week. If you are busy, even one 1.5 hours tutor meeting a week gets you to the journey of learning the daily expat Chinese. With an experienced tutor you make sure not to waste any time and get the tips and tools to study on your own as well.

Be realistic when your tutor asks you how much time you have for self-study, even 15 or 30 minutes per day allows you to start getting the basics of Chinese.

Make use of those extra minutes when waiting in line or when commuting. Besides more traditional textbook study, I give my students a small list of smart phones apps to download.

  • I recommend Skritter (affiliate link) for reviewing vocabulary as it has tons of vocal lists ready, also for the textbook I use.
  • Pinyin Trainer by trainchinese is great for mastering pinyin and learning to differentiate to similar sounding sounds.
  • Tone Test by Laokang is my choice for learning the four tones of Mandarin. Train your ear regularly and see your score get higher and higher.
  • For dictionary I of course recommend Pleco which is the choice of most Chinese learners all over the world.

 

Here’s my thoughts about why to study Chinese as an expat and how to motivate yourself to keep at it. If you are living in Guangzhou and want to know more about learning Chinese or hire me as your tutor, send me an email (sara (at) sarajaaksola . com) and we’ll meet for a cup of coffee.