Mandarin is the most spoken language in the world, with an estimated 1.12 billion speakers worldwide. Given China’s increasingly powerful stature and economic growth, it’s no wonder that Mandarin has become a desirable language to learn. But what happens after you leave China? Chinese can be quite a tricky language to grasp, and if you and your family are relocating, it can prove even harder to continue your learning.
Dru Bolesta and her family were faced with these issues when moving to Thailand, after living in Beijing for over four years. During their time in China, both Dru and her son Zachary were learning Mandarin. Zachary certainly took to the language and was eager to retain it after they moved to Thailand in December of 2011.
“I think he enjoys knowing it is quite an important language” says Bolesta. But arriving in Thailand wasn’t as simple as they thought. Although he is able to learn Thai at school, Mandarin lessons are not offered. Luckily, Zachary made friends with a native Mandarin speaker at a chess competition. “Once we sort out when they are free, they’ll be meeting up for play dates,” explains Bolesta.
Bolesta is interested in keeping up her Chinese, too. After taking lessons in Beijing, she found an ideal intermediate course with Berlitz Language School in Bangkok. “The only problem has been getting there. The school is in the city center and we live miles from there. When I enrolled, it was with the intention of going every day, but
I can only go about twice a week,” says Bolesta.
To supplement her classes, she has kept in touch with her friends. She schedules regular Skype calls and emails her Chinese teacher in Beijing. “There are opportunities everywhere you look,” she says. “You just need to be disciplined.”
Caroline Croxford and her daughter Emma moved back to their native country, Australia, after living in Beijing for over three years. At Year 5, Chinese lessons were incorporated into Emma’s curriculum at The British School of Beijing. No longer surrounded by the language in Australia, Emma is determined to remain at the same level she was at when she left China. Luckily, Caroline’s teacher in Beijing recommended a friend, who is a Chinese tutor and happened to live close to their home in Australia. With her notes and textbook from Beijing, Emma has been able to continue her Chinese studies with her new tutor.
For Caroline and her husband Murray, things have not been as simple. Regarding her time in Beijing, Caroline says: “My husband got lessons for about two years. I probably only [studied]for about six months [before]I started working full-time. But I loved learning the language; I thought it was fascinating.”
However, juggling full-time jobs in Australia has meant that both Caroline and her husband have not been able to sustain their lessons. “I would have been keen to sit in on Emma’s lessons, but she is so much more advanced than I am. I think I’d just land back at square one,” Caroline says.
To carry on your Chinese language skills outside of China, Caroline suggests practicing with fellow expats. Make sure your children stay in touch with friends they’ve made in Beijing. Bolesta feels different forms of learning suit different families. For her, the sake of enjoyment was enough motivation to keep learning Chinese. If this is the case, then there are Chinese communities around the world where you can go and strike up a conversation with groups of native speakers. If you just want to keep up casual conversation, then seek out a language school to suit your language ability.
“One of the main things I would suggest is to look up groups of people your family can connect with who are Chinese speakers. It’s like the immersion theory,” she says. Being able to find someone with similar interests makes the learning all the more fun and easier to remember.
Getting started is half the battle and if you can find native speakers or teachers near your new home, then seize the opportunity. With so many Chinese speakers across the globe, you just might be surprised at what resources are available at your new destination.