It’s the most spoken language in the world, with around a billion native speakers, but has a reputation for being difficult to learn.
Greg Hughes is a Chinese language teacher at Melbourne Grammar School, and secretary of the Chinese Language Teachers’ Association of Victoria (CLTAV).
Hughes agrees that learning Mandarin is a challenge.
“If you live in a Spanish-speaking community, you’re probably reasonably half-fluent in twelve months, it would probably take you the equivalent in Chinese [of] two to two-and-a-half years living in country to get to what we’d consider about a 70 per cent proficiency,” he says.
Despite this, Hughes says becoming proficient in the language has big benefits for schoolchildren in the long-run.
“Not only the amount of job opportunities and education opportunities in China, I think that also what’s happening now is you’re finding a huge influx, particularly into Sydney and Melbourne, of Chinese-speaking communities...” he says.
“So even living and working in Melbourne, it’s going to be an advantage, not only just to travel to China and do business in China - so I see it as a bit of a two-way thing. People don’t realise that there’s [already] a lot of jobs here requiring ... Chinese.”
Hughes, who learnt Mandarin while living in Taiwan, recommends that prospective speakers immerse themselves in the culture as much as possible.
“There’s obviously no other way to get a deeper knowledge [than] to be involved in living in a community, either in Australia or overseas in China, living (there) full-time, using the language,” he says.
“That in the end is going to be the greatest learning, even though that’s the hardest thing.”
Hughes adds that native Chinese speakers are very receptive to youngsters who are trying to hone their Mandarin skills.
“The Chinese love you to try and learn [their] language, they even appreciate the small amount of language you’ve got, so ... you’re not criticised for having poor Chinese, you’re very much encouraged, which is always good.”
Is there a Chinese teacher at your school who you feel deserves more recognition for the wonderful work they do?
Nominations are underway for EducationHQ’s Unsung Hero Awards, and this year we are excited to include a new Chinese Teacher category.
This year's Chinese Teacher winner will receive a $700 prize, proudly provided by Sing Tao Newspaper, Australia's leading Chinese language daily newspaper.
Start your nomination here.