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Begin with 'Nĭ hăo!'

Ella Clarke conducing field work with Jeremy Clarke in Harbin

Booking a flight or tour to a specific country is usually followed by a few googled after thoughts such as; “top ten spots in *country*”, “how spicy is *country’s* food?”, “what should I pack for summer in *country*?. Amongst these searches is often an attempt to find the most useful phrases of that county’s language, but what should you know before jumping into learning travellers Mandarin? It’s hard! As someone who’s clocked up over four years of Chinese language learning I wish I could say it’s a breeze, whilst Mandarin’s rewards are plentiful, you have to work for them. Language Testing International agrees, suggesting it take 720 hours to become proficient in French, however a massive 2400-2760 hours for proficiency in Mandarin! It will teach you far more than just language. Language inevitably teaches it’s learner a lot about the society, culture and history it is attached to and Mandarin is no exception. The nature of Mandarin language being pictorial means that every new character is often a window into Chinese culture and History. Many of the characters reflect cultural values and stories which are incredibly fascinating .

Chatting with the locals

Locals will love it! The way a local’s face will light up when they hear foreigners speaking their language is something very special. In the West we often have the perspective that it’s others responsibility to learn English to communicate with us, yet we aren’t generally willing for it to happen the other way round. A simple “ni hao”(hello) can go a long way, if you’re accent is good it may be met with a rapid string of rapid Chinese, that’s why it’s best to have Jeremy on hand! [Editor's note: and great to have our fantastic team of assistants: Ella, Xavier, Angus, Sam and Kate too!] Learning Chinese is kind of like climbing the great wall, the learning curves, like the stairs are steep and whilst you may find yourself wanting to turn back from exhaustion, there is nothing quite like the new view of China you get to experience. Whilst it’s relatively easy to get away with Mandarinless travel in China, there is something particularly enjoyable with engaging (even just a little) with the lingo. So download your dictionaries, duolingo apps and google away, because even if all you come with are numbers 1-3, it’ll all help on your sino journey. And when in doubt, “nihao” always does the trick!

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