GoAbroad Interview

Zhao Jiaoyan - Mandarin Language Tutor

Zhao Jiaoyan - Mandarin Language Tutor

Jiaoyan is a Mandarin Language Tutor for Go Abroad China. From Beijing originally, Jiaoyan spent a few years in Shanghai during her university years. She has been teaching Chinese as a foreign language for well over two years, but it still doesn’t feel like a typical job to her. In her free time, Jiaoyan enjoys movies, music, and traveling.

How did you get involved with Go Abroad China?

When I learned that Go Abroad China was looking for some qualified Mandarin language tutors to give language lessons, I signed up and got to know what kind of organization they are. Based on that, I decided that I would like to work together with them.

Mandarin language students in China

Small class Mandarin program

If you were a participant in a Go Abroad China program, what would your program of choice be?

The Mandarin language program of course! I think for anyone who really has an interest in the language, it is a good idea to make the trip to China and experience it for yourself. You get a different learning method while you are away from your usual surroundings in your home country. For those who are still unclear about how to go about it, there are university Mandarin courses, or courses at privately and certified language centers, that Go Abroad China will coordinate for you.

Name three places of interest a participant should definitely visit in China?

I think being the capital of China, Beijing is still worth seeing. It’s a chance for anyone that has been reading about the Great Wall or Tiananmen Square to actually see these places. For people more interested in business/financial world, Shanghai would be the better option. However, for any foreigner wishing to be more integrated with Chinese culture or history, then they need to absolutely turn their eye towards places with a smaller foreigner population, such as Sichuan or Xian. The idea is to find smaller cities.

From your tutoring experience, what makes learning Mandarin difficult? 

For the majority of my foreign students the pronunciation is really tricky to get right. Unfortunately, with the wrong pronunciation a word’s intended meaning totally changes, leading to a lot of frustration and misunderstanding. The Mandarin language has four very different tones that are the foundation of the whole language; as such, it is important to really get them right from the beginning in order to progress much easily with other aspects of Chinese.

Writing Chinese characters is also not so easy for the students coming from Western countries as they are more used to the Western alphabet instead of drawing out characters. 

Friends at a coffee shop in China

Tutoring session outside the classroom

What strategies do you use as a tutor to make it easier for language learners?

It is a great advantage if the student is interested in the language in the first place. Personally, I really focus on the speaking and listening skills; my lesson plans lean on everyday language and situations that the student is going to meet on a given day. I suggest different options of learning Chinese, of course the foundation is from the classroom, but there is so much out there on the streets of China, on television, and in friendships.

What's the most commonly asked question you receive about the language, and what is your response?

Students always ask how long is it going to take them to get fluent in Mandarin. There is no straight answer, since everybody starts at a different level. However, as a general rule six months of intense study for a total beginner will result in some proficiency: they can get around, go shopping, and engage in simple conversations.

What are the biggest benefits of being able to speak Mandarin?

Definitely for personal or career use! Although more and more Chinese are learning English, it is still not widely used in the streets of China, so foreigners definitely need to speak Chinese. Besides the convenience of the language while in China, some students seek to formally learn Chinese because they want to advance their career, whether as future Mandarin teachers in their own countries or when doing business in China.

What makes Go Abroad China's language courses better than other Mandarin language programs in China?

Our courses are more affordable. We make sure to have a wide variety of options, including university Mandarin study, independent language schools, and private tutoring, to meet the demand from our potential foreign clients.

Students dressed in ancient Chinese dress near a temple in China

Getting dressed in ancient Chinese attire

What is the most fulfilling aspect of your job at Go Abroad China?

The best thing for me is getting an email from any former student of mine saying that they are continuing with their Mandarin lessons back in their home country. It feels extra special when the student tells you that everyone back home is amazed at how much improvement they have achieved. Sometimes, given the fact that they had settled into a routine life in China coupled with the competition in class, some of their milestones actually just sort of pass by without much recognition. I am always happy for my students when they look back and acknowledge all that they have obtained, especially if their Chinese language skills were lacking before coming to China.