20 April is UN Chinese Language Day. To mark the occasion this year, Australia-China Youth Association’s (ACYA) ANU Branch President, and College of Asia & the Pacific student, Tony Gu, shares his experiences on learning Chinese and continuing his studies at ANU:
"As an Australian-born Chinese the importance of Chinese language has been instilled in me from a young age. Since immigrating to Australia 25 years ago, my mum has taken up a job as a Mandarin language teacher at local weekend Chinese community language schools around Melbourne. Since I was six years old, I’ve follow her every Saturday and Sunday morning to Chinese classes where I would study Chinese texts, rote learn Chinese characters, and practice my oral skills. My parents have always stressed the importance of learning Chinese because I was a 华侨 hua qiao (overseas Chinese) and it was my responsibility as a hua qiao to speak the language of my ancestors so I was able to communicate with my relatives and friends in Greater China.
Nowadays, learning Chinese, or more specifically Mandarin, is seen as a key to the future. We often hear the rhetoric surrounding learning Chinese: “attractive and competitive edge in your career”, “access to whole new untapped market”, and “facilitating Chinese investors into overseas businesses.” However, looked-over more often than not is the ability to communicate to a whole new community, diasporas locally and internationally, people from around the world also learning Chinese, and the 1.4 billion people in China. Being able to communicate and converse with people in their own mother tongue opens up a world of opportunity and emotions. While the Chinese economy continues to grow and the Chinese society continues to develop, literacy and understanding in English is only just emerging. Strong engagement and people-to-people exchange is a strong vehicle for shaping social change and discourse. To talk to someone in their mother tongue breaks down more than just social, cultural, and linguistic barriers – when you speak to someone in their language you can see their eyes light up, and more often than not, almost everyone you encounter in China will be impressed when you speak Chinese, and honoured that you understand the importance of their language. One of the most profound and memorable experiences of my entire Chinese-learning career was on an occasion in China when I was able to converse with people from Ethiopia, Brazil, and the Netherlands. When the only language we could all mutually speak was Mandarin, it was an eye-opening opportunity to see that without Mandarin we would have never been able to connect, converse, and learn from each other.
At the Australian National University, students are in a unique position and have the opportunity to learn much more than just Mandarin. ANU College of Asia & the Pacific’s School of Culture, History, and Language offer courses not commonly found in Australian universities, let alone in universities around the Western world. For example, the ANU offers courses on Cantonese, Taiwanese, and Literary Chinese, a rare opportunity everyone should capitalise on! Additionally, Chinese-English interpreting and translating, as well as various high-level advanced Chinese language courses are offered and aimed at giving you the competitive edge in whichever career pathway you choose in the future. Furthermore, at ANU you can take your language learning to the next level by partaking in study opportunities at tertiary institutions in China, Hong Kong, Singapore, and Taiwan, whether it be various short courses, semester exchange programs, or the flagship Year in Asia program.
Learning Chinese at ANU has been a rewarding and unique experience, from the passion of lecturers to the collaborative environment within Chinese classes. For a language that is often regarded as one of the hardest languages for native English speakers to learn, Chinese language teachers at ANU make it a priority to provide supportive and engaging classes both in terms of understanding and consolidating material, as well as providing knowledge on unique nuances of Chinese culture, customs and values.
The Australia-China Youth Association (ACYA) at ANU is the only apolitical youth-run organisation for Australian youth interested in China and Chinese youth interested in Australia. ACYA at ANU facilitates and runs cross-cultural, educational, and career events throughout the academic year. Every week, ACYA runs ‘Language Exchange’ giving students an opportunity to hone their Chinese language skills with their peers as well as practice with native Chinese speakers. To find out more about ACYA at ANU’s exciting events and initiatives follow the Facebook page.
As the popular Chinese idiom ‘井底之蛙 jing di zhi wa’ goes: ‘don’t be the frog at the bottom of the well who has a limited outlook of the world.’ Instead, learn Chinese to ‘开阔眼界 kai kuo yan jie’ and broaden your outlook on the world!"
Find out more about studying Chinese at ANU.