Hi, my name is Georgie! If you’ve read my previous blog piece I wrote for Teach English In China about my Mandarin-learning journey and how I was able to do that in 18 months, you probably got a sense of the challenges and fun parts of this seemingly scary process. But the aspect I want to share with you this time is the impact that learning Mandarin has had on my life since.
The first and most obvious part of my life that studying Mandarin has affected is my career. I honestly have no idea what I would be doing right now had I not decided to go to China through Teach English In China after graduation, and kicked off my China journey. Chinese has now completely transformed my career and dominated it in a way I could never have predicted. There are so many opportunities for Mandarin-speaking Westerners, because more and more Western companies are doing business with China or targeting the Chinese market. Although more Brits are starting to learn Mandarin, the demand still heavily outweighs the supply when it comes to fluent Mandarin-speaking Brits. I suppose you could say that we are still a bit of a commodity, but I predict that this will change over the next few years and competition will increase.
After I got back from China, I got a job in recruitment (do not recommend!) using my Chinese, and then a short while later I landed a much more suitable job in investment and property consultancy for the Chinese market. I had absolutely no experience in either of those industries, but as I had that much sought after skill, and a willingness to learn, I was still able to bag a great role and then learn more about the industry on the job.
I have worked hard on building up a strong personal network within the London-Chinese circle, and as a result, I also often get fun, one-off job offers, simply because I am both British and can speak Chinese. For example, next month I’ll be teaching a lesson on afternoon tea and etiquette at The Ritz for 30+ Chinese visitors. Of course I’ll get a free afternoon tea as well…fancy!
Learning Chinese has also allowed me the opportunity to start two of my own businesses. The small sole-trader business I started first offers horse riding tours for Chinese tourists, which then naturally also developed into pre-wedding equestrian photoshoots for Chinese couples. The main business now is Jinyo; an expat platform for Chinese people living in the UK. This is essentially something I wish I had had available to me when I was a newbie in China. We offer UK life and culture information, event recommendations, our own in-house social networking and language & culture exchange events, online education courses, and a student concierge service.
Apart from my work life, learning Mandarin (and getting into Chinese culture) has also given me a kind of split personality. It sounds bizarre, but please don’t call the men in white coats out just yet. When you start learning Mandarin you will be given, or can choose, your own Chinese name. This just makes life easier when communicating with Chinese people, because our names aren’t always very easy for them to say or remember. I didn’t realise it at first, but I think I ended up building a whole other subset of a personality around my Chinese name (Jia Jia佳佳) that also matches better with Chinese culture. I’d like to point out that this wasn’t a conscious decision – it seemed to just happen of its own accord.
First of all, when I speak Chinese, my voice apparently lifts an octave. This is because learning a language is all about imitation and Chinese women often tend to have higher, cuter voices than we do. So that happened. Secondly, in order to fit in with a certain culture and make friends, it helps to do things as they do. If you know anything about Chinese (or Asian) culture, you’ll know that the key words for women are: cute, sweet, humble etc etc. This is the complete opposite of my natural, “British” personality (I am pretty stubborn, sarcastic, and fairly far from cute), but it just seems to happen when I’m in 佳佳 mode. It sounds weird, but I do think it’s been an advantage.
There’s also been research done which shows that the languages you speak can actually change the way your brain is hard-wired. This, as a result, can alter the way you think and perceive the world. Having learnt Mandarin, I do think there’s some truth to that, albeit not a dramatic effect, but a subtle effect nonetheless.
That went a bit off-piste towards the end, but as you can see, learning Mandarin has had a profound effect on my life. Sometimes I feel that it’s cornered me in to only ever working with one market, but then I remind myself that this is perhaps one of the fastest growing, exciting markets, brimming with opportunities for all different skillsets. Plus at the very least…it always makes for a great party trick.
If you are interested in learning Mandarin and more about Chinese culture, then you’re very welcome to join our monthly social networking and lang/culture exchange event called Culture Club. It’s the perfect place to meet like-minded language learners and new Chinese friends who can help you learn even faster! If you have WeChat, please add me (username: g-bell) and I will add you in to our friendly London events WeChat group community.