Beijing Based Podcaster Brendan Davis shares his advice for learning Mandarin Chinese. Brendan is a film producer and speaker here in Beijing, co-host of How China Works and host of If I Knew You Better.
Brendan: How China Works is co-hosted Yingying Li. She’s a Chinese female, millennial. That show is designed to help foreigners be China smart, and to help Chinese people who are going global to better understand how the other cultures intersect with there’s.
How good is your Chinese?
Kwadwo: First of all. How good is your Chinese?
Brendan: I can speak a bit of Chinese but I don’t speak well.
Kwadwo: You speak good enough. And we’re going to share how it helps you here. That’s what’s more important, not how good you speak, but I truly believe living here in China and connecting with Chinese people that language and culture are intertwined.
Brendan: I joked that I have advanced Didi Chinese, which is like Uber here. When I first moved here, I had a tutor. I was lucky that I could afford to have a private tutor, three days a week for about an hour a day, for about a year.
Kwadwo: A year?
Brendan: Yeah. And so I did not start working on writing though. It’s very easy to mess up Chinese. And so my goal was to be social and friendly with people.
Brendan: But I knew I would always have an interpreter with me for any business stuff, and I still do. So my focus was to be able to say hi, all the basic getting to know you chitchat. Hi, where are you from? How’s the weather? I like that shirt. The same 20 or 30 things we say all the time. I say those, not to brag, pretty well, right?
Kwadwo: But it builds a connection.
Kwadwo: That’s, that’s the big purpose of language.
Kwadwo: And it helps you in your industry.
Brendan: Absolutely. And it shows you’re making that effort. And again, the funny part is, if you say those same 20 or 30 things all the time, now anybody listening who speaks the language is judging my Chinese.
Kwadwo: That’s okay, let them. Don’t judge, don’t judge.
Brendan: But it’s not terrible pronunciation. And if I’m really trying, it’s… And the thing is, it’s funny, is that people end up thinking, “Oh, you’re Chinese is so good.” I mean, no, no, no, no, no, no. Just like we did at the beginning of this.
Accept that it’s hard to learn
Kwadwo: So here’s the thing. I see professionals all the time here in Beijing, and I ask how their Chinese is going. And they get like this down look. And I just know that means it’s hard to learn. It’s hard. And they’re saying, “I’m never going to be able to learn.” And I’m, if you just learn the day to day Chinese and you connect, that’s good. Because it says I’m interested in you, Chinese person, or China’s culturally. And it’s totally fine.
Kwadwo: As long as you’re making good effort.
Brendan: He actually helped order the coffee. We’re at a chain coffee shop, I don’t think you should say the name.
Kwadwo: I can say Starbucks.
Brendan: You can say Starbucks.
Kwadwo: What else is there? I only drink Starbucks.
Brendan: That’s a good answer.
What’s your best advice when starting to learn Chinese?
Kwadwo: I’m sure they’re really happy I said that. So really quick, what’s your tip that you’re going to say to your friend who’s coming over to China? Because if you’re not here yet, here’s some good advice about how to start learning Chinese.
Brendan: Well, my best advice is to focus on what’s most useful, to what you’re doing. If your goal is that you want to eventually master the language, start like a Chinese person does. Start learning the characters, start with a good program of self-study, a teacher if you can afford or have a teacher, and do that where you’re learning all the fundamentals.
But if your goal is not solely to master the language, but just to be functional while doing your other thing you already do, like I was, focus on what’s important to you and your industry. Learn the keywords. So, film producer and director. These words that I use that are not just everyday words. And if I see those things pretty well, to make sure that locals can understand it. So focus on what’s useful.
Also, Pimsleur, the spoken language. The oral. Pimsleur-
Kwadwo: Three CDs right? One, two, three.
Brendan: Pimsleur’s great for developing your ear. Something like that where you can focus on practical learning is my best advice, accept that it’s hard. People are generally so appreciative that you’re making an effort because they know it’s hard.
Kwadwo: I like what you said, “Accept that it’s hard,” because it’s all about really lowering your expectations,
Brendan: Oh yeah. Especially with me.
Kwadwo: Because the level of disappointment is the distance between reality and your expectations.
Brendan: Well that’s the Brendan Davis story. Managing my disappointment and expectations.
How to contact Brendan
Kwadwo: Your website?
Brendan: Yeah, crazyinagoodway.com, because my belief is that you have to be at least a little bit crazy to do the kind of things that I’m doing, but hopefully it’s in a good way. That’s the hub for all my stuff. Podcasting and consulting.
Kwadwo: Of course, the link for that is here. Brendan Davis, thank you for even coming to me interviewing here with me for what a quick four and a half minutes.
Brendan: Something like that, man. It was really my pleasure. Thank you.
Both: Good good study, day day up.
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