Travel with Niamh to China

As part of our initiative for celebrating International Women’s Day 2022, we’re featuring a series of women who celebrate their career or their passion for languages. In this post, we feature Niamh Doherty, a final year Undergraduate student from Northern Ireland who is very passionate about languages and the Chinese culture, and how her love for Chinese culture began from just playing video games about the Three Kingdoms, to learning Mandarin, going on Study China Trips, and taking part in a competition relating to her experiences in China. Read on to learn more about her story, and the advice she has to offer to others wanting to learn a language.

If you’d like to see our other features for International Women’s Day, do check out our other features on our blog, and our YouTube channel.

Tell us more about yourself and how you came to start learning Mandarin Chinese!

I am a final year BSc Communication, Advertising and Marketing student from Northern Ireland. My motivation for learning Mandarin began when I first started playing video games based on The Romance of the Three Kingdoms (one of the four great Chinese classical novels). This acted as a gateway for me to begin learning about Chinese history and culture.

I’ve always enjoyed learning languages, as I studied French throughout secondary school, so when Mandarin was offered as an extracurricular activity, I thought it was a fantastic opportunity (with my name written all over it). As class only lasted 90 minutes per week, progress was slow and required patience, passion and dedication, which I offered without question. By the time I finished school, I had completed half of HSK4 and then taught myself the other half.

What’s your most memorable experience while learning Mandarin Chinese?

It is hard to pinpoint one memorable moment that learning Chinese has given me. Every privileged opportunity I have had somehow led to another: First, I was one of 20 students in Northern Ireland selected to join a Study China trip where I got to visit Beijing, Wuhan, Huangshi and Yichang. The following year, I was one of five students selected to represent the UK at the 14th Shanghai International Youth Interactive Camp and I got to make friends with China-enthusiasts from around the world. Through this opportunity, I learned about the 5th Shanghai Get-Together International Writing Competition, in which I decided to enter a piece on my experience staying with a wonderful Shanghainese family. I was shocked when I placed 2nd, winning round-trip tickets to Shanghai, and visiting my ‘Chinese family’ once more.

Could you tell us more about your meeting with President Xi JinPing?

I was invited by the Confucius Institute in Belfast to speak to Xi JinPing at the 2020 China International Fair for Trade in Services about my experience learning Mandarin and the opportunities it has given me. It was incredibly inspiring to connect with Mandarin student representatives from around the world and share our joint appreciation for Chinese culture and language. We were broadcast to what appeared to be a television studio, and a political representative greeted everyone there while we waved enthusiastically from our large screen display. We pre-recorded messages which we were told would be shown to President Xi.

What was your most difficult hurdle while learning Chinese? Do you have any advice for other Mandarin Chinese learners out there?

The biggest challenge for me is learning independently. It is hard without the structure of a syllabus, or a classroom environment with enthusiastic peers and a dedicated teacher to keep you on track.

Creating your own routine is the best way to overcome this, by dedicating time to studying frequently (anything from a few minutes per day to a few hours per week). A clear study plan is ideal, so set goals and source materials you need to get there. I learned how to go about this by following a lot of Chinese study accounts on Instagram which advise on every possible study material and technique. They genuinely motivate me to keep going - like a study buddy would!

How do you plan to pursue your love for Chinese culture, language and market? Are you intending to continue learning Chinese?

I try to weave China into my life in any way possible, so while completing my degree, I placed top of a module for which I wrote a digital strategy for entering the Chinese market. For my dissertation, I am investigating the role of social media in the decision-making journey of prospective Chinese international students deciding to study at a UK higher education institution. I also took on a part-time job researching the Chinese innovative technology market. My dream role would involve building UK and Ireland business relations with China and I hope that a sound level of Mandarin can help me get there. I will always be working hard to progress my Mandarin level, and I think apps like Bluente are great for improving Business Chinese.

To conclude, learning Mandarin has had a profound influence on my life but the most truly wonderful aspect of learning any language is being able to forge a connection with people you would otherwise not be able to communicate with. For me, that has been beautiful souls I have met in passing on my adventures, to making lifelong friends that I would cross China (and the world) to meet again. A second language is always beneficial for career prospects, so I am lucky that my career aspirations bolsters my drive to learn Mandarin.

China has huge influence on the world, and I have always admired its power. Watching China means you are keeping an eye on the future, while learning Mandarin means you are bridging a gap between worlds.

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