How I’m learning Chinese* (and why I should be learning Russian instead)

I’m a bit of a language addict. When I’m not trying to learn a new language I always feel a bit like there’s something missing from my life.

In April last year my school offered a short beginner’s course in Mandarin which lasted for 10 weeks. I joined it, and decided that Mandarin would be my next language – it’s different to anything I’ve learnt before and is a real challenge, but at the same time, it has a logic to it that appeals a lot. It will also open the door to whole culture that has always interested me: I’ve always wanted to visit China, although I’ve never really wanted to live there. Unfortunately, as the course finished my life became full of other things, namely London 2012 and then Delta.

So it was that I forgot pretty much everything I studied last year. However, I always planned to pick up Mandarin again as soon as my Distance Delta course was finished. I even got two Chinese books for my birthday: Teach Yourself Mandarin Chinese*, and the Chinese Visual Dictionary. Last week I finally got started, with the support of my friend Catherine, who studied languages with me at uni and is joining me in my quest.

Catherine and I in Bavaria, where we hatched our Mandarin plan...
Catherine and I in Bavaria, where we hatched our Mandarin plan…

We’re using the 15-Minute Chinese book to get us started, and create some form of (almost) daily study habit, with the plan of moving on to the other books later. We’re going to Skype every Thursday and try out what we’ve learnt that week. I’ve created Quizlet sets for each page we’ve studied so far, which have been a very useful step in my learning, especially in terms of recognising characters. I’ve also been using two courses on memrise: Learn Basic Chinese: read a menu and HSK level 1 – introductory Mandarin. Memrise is one of my new favourite websites, and I’ve become a bit of an addict. They have just (a month ago) released an app, which I have on my phone and tablet, and I also use it online at least twice a day. So far I can introduce myself, count to 99 (although I’m still mixing up 6, 7 and 9 a lot) and talk a little about my family. I can also read a Chinese menu (I’ve pretty much finished that memrise course) and recognise some other basic characters. This is the first time I’ve tried to learn a language without classes or a teacher, and I’m hoping Catherine and I can motivate each other, as I find studying alone to be very easy to back out of!

So why should I be learning Russian then? Well, in September, visa-permitting, I will be moving to Sevastopol in Ukraine to join the team at IH Sevastopol as a DoS (Director of Studies)**.

Image from Wikimedia Commons
Image from Wikimedia Commons

Despite being in Ukraine, the city is mostly Russian-speaking, as it is the base for the Russian Black Sea fleet. To that end, I’ve been using memrise to learn the Russian alphabet, and have started to pick up a few basic phrases. It helps that I already speak some Czech, as some of the basic words are pretty similar once I’ve deciphered the letters. I plan on learning more before leaving the UK, but for now I want to focus on Mandarin as I’ve been planning to study it for so long!

I’m really enjoying the challenge of deciphering another (two) language(s), and I’m looking forward to my new adventures in Ukraine. It looks like a beautiful country and a very exciting job, in a school which is growing fast. It will be my first experience at management level too, although I’ll still be doing a lot of teaching. If you’d like to join me, the school is also looking for a teacher who enjoys teaching young learners. Let me know if you’re interested and I can put you in touch with the director of the school.

So for now, 再见 and до свидания. I’ve got some studying to do… 🙂

*All book links are to Amazon, and I will get 10% if you buy after clicking these links. Thank you!

14 thoughts on “How I’m learning Chinese* (and why I should be learning Russian instead)

  1. Hi Sandy!

    Wow – you are so admirable! Two languages at the same time, and pretty challenging ones – so great that you want to learn them! My niece (she is 8) announced that she wants her fifth language to be Mandarin! (She is bilingual in English and Greek, fluent in German and will start with French in school when she is in Grade 3. She is thrilled!). I will tell her about you : )

    I am still struggling with German, as I haven’t had a lot of formal training – but this August I am starting classes again – and the Quizlet cards sound like a good idea. I have the app but haven’t used it yet! You have motivated me so much!

    Bravo Sandy!


    1. Thanks a lot for the comment Vicky. Your niece sounds pretty amazing! I wish I’d been able to do languages that early. She’ll have a great time and benefit so much from the languages. The Quizlet and memrise sets would really help her too I hope 🙂

      Good luck with your German – you’ll be great. I find Quizlet so useful – it’s really motivating. Happy to help!


  2. Great! That school aren’t going to know what hit ‘em! You’re a regular inspiration, you are. You’ve got me wanting to learn it too! Today I’ll be sure to repeat the one sentence in Mandarin I know: ‘I am Middle-Kingdom person, I am Middle-Kingdom person …’

    Good luck!



  3. Hi Sandy, excited to hear of your new job – I’m sure the Delta training will stand you in good stead. Hope you can focus on teaching and learning as a DoS and not get too bogged down in admin!

    Good luck with the languages. Have you read ‘Polygot: How I Learn Languages’ by the Hungarian Kato Lomb? It was really inspiring for me as both a language teacher and learner. It’s available as a pdf through a link on her wikipedia entry.

    Good luck!

    Rob (former DD victim/co-student)


    1. The Chinese has come to a bit of a standstill – no time to do anything with it, what with exam preparation and moving to a new country! My Russian is improving slowly but surely, especially because I’m now having regular lessons with a teacher in Sevastopol. Thanks for asking!


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