10 Indisputable Reasons Why My Mandarin Teacher Is Awesome

These past few days I've not had the time or frame of mind to sit down and blog. It's been driving me crazy. You see, I'm a writer at heart. If I don't get to write, I tend to get a bit antsy. Sitting down to write a blog post is almost as good as sitting down with a cup of hot coffee. It's up there with dumplings and chocolate.

I've been planning this particular blog post quietly in my head since before my China holiday. If I could hook my brain up to a printer, I'd have the finished product in front of me in two seconds straight. Alas, said technology has not yet been invented and if it has the CIA is keeping it from us common folk, leaving us to suffer and invest hours and hours of hard labour to produce a piece of work that you can enjoy at your leisure over coffee and breakfast in bed. I tell you, being a writer is hard. Then again that tale is a different one altogether. Let's leave this for another day and another blog post.

Today's blog post is all about my Mandarin teacher or 中文老师.

Teacher and student living it up in Hong Kong ~ as you do!

When I told her that I was planning to write this blog post, she laughed heartily. It was the kind of laugh that let me know she thought I was somewhat insane but instead of telling me outright, she opted for the subtle way of letting me know what she thought of my idea. Said reaction is odd since she's usually quite blunt with me, which, don't get me wrong, I love. You know what? I think she was just flattered that I think so highly of her and she didn't want to admit it. Yeah, that's bound to be it.

Before I start to shower my lovely teacher with accolades and praise, I'd just like to say that finding a great teacher is vital when you're learning a language.

A motivated, well-prepared teacher who encourages you, guides you and pushes you into the right direction is all you really need to progress and be successful. Of course, if you're Mr/Mrs Lazybones that won't get you anywhere at all, but let's take that out of the equation for the time being. Let's take this on the basis of you having your own motivations and reasons for learning a new language. Sometimes though, those crumble and/or you're simply overwhelmed by all the new things you're learning. Maybe you're even caught up in every day life, every day problems and a bunch of worries. There's a lot of baggage that can contribute to making you forget why you chose to learn a new language in the first place. Sometimes learning a language isn't even your choice but you do it because you have to. Your job demands it, you want to climb up the career ladder, you want to relocate to another country...there are a million and one reasons. When it comes to young learners it's often the parents who decided learning another language is what's best for their child.

Whatever the reason may be, it definitely helps if the person who is teaching you consistently shows that they enjoy what they're doing and that they are motivated and enthusiastic about your progress.

The German language has a fun idiom for this: Das ist schon die halbe Miete.

Literally this translates into: That's already half the rent. Naturally that makes no sense in English (although the gist is there). The correct English idiom for this would be: That's half the battle (won). If the foundation is there, the rest is a piece of cake or 小菜一碟 (xiǎo cài yī dié) as the Chinese would say.

So let's kick this off.

#1 - She's got patience:

My teacher has a seemingly endless amount of patience at her disposal when she's teaching me. There's nothing that can rattle her or throw her off course. Not even me not getting my pronunciation up to par some 100 attempts into it. Nope, she keeps her composure and continues practicing the tones with me until I get it right. Although sometimes we just move on to something else and once we return to fixing my pronunciation errors, I magically manage to get it right and more or less remember it too.

#2 - She's prepared:

As a teacher you should always be prepared for a lesson - my teacher is. If you don't prepare for your lessons, well then I'm not really sure what to say at this point except maybe were you off sick when you were supposed to learn all about lesson planning and preparation? Sometimes my teacher doesn't get to teach me any of the stuff she prepared. That would be because I tend to have a list of questions ready to fire at my poor teacher and sometimes we sit there for three hours, trying to resolve them all or because one question raises another three. The lesson usually starts something like this: 老师,我有八个问题... (Teacher, I've eight questions...) followed by me taking out a piece of paper with all my notes. I'd like to note though that I don't always have eight questions, sometimes it's only seven and other times it's only three! This is then usually met with a reproachful look from my teacher, a wave of her hand and the request to 继续 (繼續 / jìxù) - that's our relationship in a nutshell.

#3 - She's cool:
Yup, my teacher is cool and that makes her awesome. She's got a very sensible approach when it comes to teaching. What she teaches is useful, it's something I can relate to, something I can use in every day life. Let's face it, what's the point of being able to respond to being asked how old I am but not knowing a suitable comeback when out partying? A guy who doesn't get the message that I'm not interested his advances is hardly going to repeatedly ask for my age. He's more likely to pester me about buying me a drink, wanting to dance or even going home with him. If I want him to sod off so I can continue to enjoy my evening, it would be handy to know what to reply. Preferably the kind of response that's going to send him back to whatever corner he came from. I mean I could always play the damsel in distress and refuse to venture out without my boyfriend at my side but that's kind of lame. I like to stand up for myself and sort out my own problems, thank you very much. Apart from useful vocabulary my teacher also teaches me some cool slang, colloquialisms and other ridiculously cool stuff about the Chinese language.

#4 - She makes me eat Chinese food, real Chinese food:

Chinese food is awesome, real Chinese food that is. I'm not talking about your local Chinese takeaway that offers fried rice, fried rice, fried rice, spring rolls and oh did I mentioned fried rice? Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong with fried rice but there's so much more to authentic Chinese cuisine. I hate it when Chinese takeaways have to westernise the food to make it attractive - why, people why? Eat the real stuff or don't eat it at all! Why do Chinese chefs have to go out of of their way to please your taste buds? The real thing is the best you can get, so shut it and eat. After all, the Italians don't change the way they make pizza or pasta to suit your taste buds. Either you eat the real thing or you go and stick it, that's their approach to it.

A common practice in Ireland is for Chinese takeaways to include fish and chips on the menu. I'm sorry, but fish and chips is not a Chinese dish and if you go to a Chinese restaurant to order that then I'm torn between wanting to smack you with a dried, fried rice roll or throw a bowl of steaming Hot & Sour Soup over your head. Seeing since either action will result in a fine and/or jail time, I usually stick with a third option. I use my Chinese to mock those weird people and my Chinese friends and I have a good laugh about the stupidity of some people. Since they have no idea what we're talking about, it's all good. In all fairness, they probably think we're complimenting them or something. I tell you, you can find the strangest Laowais at Chinese restaurants in Ireland.

Anyways, eating Chinese food is something any Chinese student should indulge in. When learning a language you can't just learn how to speak the language - it's not all about pronunciations, grammar and vocabulary. To really understand the language you need to sample it and that isn't done by merely being able to speak or write a letter using fancy language. You need to live the language and to do that you need to learn about the culture, the customs, the people. This is best done over a good meal with friends (in my opinion anyway). When I'm out with friends, eating Chinese food, I'm the happiest. I don't care that they are amused about my struggle with those pesky chopsticks (although using them is almost second nature to me now...I'm no pro though, occasionally I slip up and usually the result is fun to watch). I love helping my friends to prepare dumplings or hot pot and I'm grateful that my teacher gave me the opportunity to experience this. While in Hong Kong I sampled plenty of amazing Chinese food, all thanks to the insistence of my teacher. We have an unspoken rule when it comes to Chinese food - 1) I will try whatever I'm presented with and only make up my mind afterwards and 2) my teacher doesn't tell me what I'm eating until after I've tried it. While travelling in Mainland China, I stood glued to the spot, watching a local Hangzhou woman wrap 粽子 (zòngzi) in preparation for the Dragon Boat festival. She did it so quickly, I couldn't wrap my head around it. I watched people prepare food out on the street, had to be dragged away from various street food stalls and point black refused to stop eating, even though my stomach was close to exploding.

#5 - She makes me use the language:
If there is an opportunity to use the language, my teacher will make damn sure that I do so. On a couple of occasions I've even heard her reprimand people for using English with me instead of Chinese. "She speaks Chinese, why are you speaking English with her!" When I first started learning Chinese, the moment class started I turned into a chatterbox. Mind you, I'm a chatterbox either way but having only a very limited vocabulary didn't stop me from trying to use the language as much as I could. However whenever I was out and about, I would freeze up. You could've sworn I used super glue instead of lip gloss.

I was so convinced that my Chinese was so far below par that I refused to use it anywhere but it class. I don't know what I was thinking at the beginning - that it would only take me three months to master proficiency? My teacher's constant encouragement tore down that barrier though and now I chat away to people any chance I get. I'm far from perfect but I am able to get a message across even if I need more than one go at it. All I need is for the person on the other side to have some patience with me and for the most part Chinese people seem to have just that. While in China I came across some people who absolutely wouldn't give me the time to try and explain what I was on about, but that's okay. Most people were absolutely amazing though and I'd like to thank them for that. Still, the biggest thanks goes to my teacher. Without my mentor's advise, her continuous encouragement and her refusal to accept my resistance, she got me just where I need to be and continues to push me from there. There's only one way, and that way is going up.

If your Chinese teacher / tutor doesn't encourage you to use the language or applies gentle force to make you see their point and the importance of using whatever you have learned, well then, and I'm not sorry to say this, but they're definitely doing something wrong. Also, if you as a student don't use the language, then WHAT THE HECK! Get out there and use the language. Make a fool out of yourself, put your foot right in, up to your neck if you can. Making a mistake is the best way to teach you how to do it right the next time. Mind you, you should avoid to cause grave insult, but even if you make a cultural faux pas, an earnest apology will get you back into people's good books.

#6 - Her classes are full of variety:
We incorporate writing into almost every class. It's a great way of starting off a lesson or even to cool off after two hours of Chinese grammar. We do reading classes where I practice reading characters - without Pinyin mind you. The first thing my teacher banned was reading texts that come with the Pinyin underneath. I felt like a fish out of water when she first took it away, but I quickly realised just how much I'd been relying on the phonetic script and how little attention I was paying to the actual characters.

Once there was no more Pinyin to distract me, I really started picking up characters and remembering them too. My character recognition improved and I started paying attention to the stroke orders and the beauty of the characters in general. Nowadays I read like a pro, not in the sense that I'm perfect at it, but I'm not scared to pick up a newspaper, magazine or blog post even if if's above my current level. Nevertheless, I give it my best shot and giving it your best shot is the best thing you can do.

Apart from practicing how to write and read characters, we have pronunciation classes. It's those times when my teacher picks at everything I say, ruthlessly corrects the pronunciation and makes me repeat it until I get it right. It's those times when she tries to iron out any mistakes I make and any bad habits I've picked up. It's frustrating and it makes my head hurt but it ensures that people will properly understand me in the future. I won't leave them guessing about what I actually want to say but they know right away that I'm talking about.

Then there are conversational classes where I get to talk, talk, talk and did I mention talk? These usually don't take much encouragement from my teacher but ever so often she'll ask the one or the other question to keep the conversation going. With those classes the only thing my teacher is interested in is increasing my level of fluency and my vocabulary. She doesn't pick at my pronunciation or interrupts me to teach me the stroke order of a new character. Nope, she just wants me to talk. It's those times when I'm happily jabbering away that people tend to give me the thumbs up and occasionally they say lovely things like 你说得中文很好 or 你的中文不错的. Sweet, huh?

There's a whole lot more to our classes but unfortunately for you, I can't give away all my teacher's secrets. A little bit of mystery needs to be kept so I can continue to impress you with my astonishing Mandarin Chinese skills or lack thereof - I kid. If you've been following my progress, then you know that I can speak (some) Mandarin.

#7 - She's a great friend:
Usually it's rather rare for teachers and students to become friends. I mean real friends. Generally speaking I would advise that teachers and students shouldn't blur that line but I'm happy that my teacher and I decided to throw caution into the wind (算了啦!) and become friends. I still have the same amount of respect for her as I did before. There's time for class and there's time for friendship and messing around. Her advice as a teacher is amazing, it helps me improve and continue to strive towards reaching some level of fluency in Chinese. As for her advice as a friend, well that's just an added bonus. She's full of life experience, warmth and love. She's a mother hen and I love it. When she says 吃饭了吗? (Translation: Have you eaten? / Intended Meaning: How are you?), she actually really wants to know the answer. She cares about her friends and would walk through fire for them, just like I would. I wouldn't dare to cross or disappoint her as a friend (or a student for that matter). To keep this short and sweet, she's one hell of an amazing gal and she deserves every amazing thing this world has to offer!

#8 - She let's me get away with murder:
My teacher has a major soft spot and I figured out how to use this to my advantage pretty early on. An healthy does of (撒娇) sajiao-ing often gets me my way. I don't think I exploit it all that much, but you should probably ask my teacher for her opinion on that - I'm scared of what she'll say. ;-) In saying that, I don't get away with just about everything that takes my fancy. Occasionally I may manage to convince my teacher to go to my favourite Dim Sum restaurant instead of having a proper class or I get around doing one or the other exercise but that's about it. She does know how to get me to do what I should be doing in terms of language learning and she can manage it without a text book to aid her. I take my hat off.

Seriously people, what I actually mean to say is that my teacher is flexible. She doesn't use the same old approach of "You HAVE to do this now". I think it's actually just a bunch of mind games. She knows when I really don't want to do an exercise and doesn't force me to do it if she feels I won't gain anything from it anyway. She however also knows when I'm just being lazy and that's when she tighten's the reigns and uhm, yeah I just have to do it whether I want it or not. Also, I'm convinced she only makes me believe that I can get away with murder. The woman is in charge, even if I think she's not. I rest my case. Did I mention she's awesome? I'll continue to believe I get away with murder when around her, even if it's just wishful thinking.

#9 - She gives feedback, regularly and consistently.
My teacher has a no-nonsense approach to giving feedback. She doesn't overpraise me but she definitely she does it when it's appropriate. Her grading is reasonable and while her oral feedback is clear and to the point Her encouraging smiles, endless patience, and her insistence for me to keep going, to keep improving are worth so much more than useless flattery. All those appreciating smiles, approving nods, a short "That's correct" or "Not bad" definitely help. One thing that doesn't work with her though is fishing for compliments. I can ask for feedback about one thing or another but outright fishing for compliment, forget it. She sees right through that kind of thing!

#10 - She makes even the most boring (grammar) exercise fun.
...by using bribery. Just kidding. Actually no. I'm not. My teacher has been known to use Chinese sweets and various promises to get me to do things. Also she's been known to use mild threats which I will not disclose here (Okay, now I kid!). Somehow even the most boring grammar exercise is still fun and interesting when I'm studying with my teacher. Maybe it's just my own enthusiasm when it comes to learning the language, but I enjoy the exercises anyway. No matter how much I don't want to concentrate or do something else, something easier, I still stick with it. Maybe it's because we take breaks to talk and look at other things, or maybe it's simply the sense of accomplishment that follows which keeps me going. I'm not sure and I'm too tired to speculate. Instead I'll take the easy way out and blame it on my teacher's teaching skills.

Of the top of my head, I could probably come up with a few more reasons as to why I have the best Mandarin teacher in the world, but I don't want to make you all even more jealous than you already are. If you are wondering just what you have to do to get hold of my Mandarin teacher, I have to disappoint you, I'm not giving her up or away. Just kidding, if you want to schedule a class with her, I'll be happy to let her know!