Alexis’ Interview and Review
A Shanghai expat, Alexis experiences the need to speak Chinese everyday. Working in a big video game company, he was an early tester of Ninchanese while it was in early beta and has remained an active and engaged learner. Alexis is Nincha’s first brand ambassador, so make sure you ask for his card if you run into him!
Tell us a bit about yourself
My name is Alexis, I’m 32 years old. I grew-up in Guadeloupe (French West Indies) and came back to France for my studies. I started my career in Paris and now I’ve been living in Shanghai for the last 8 months. I am currently working as an IT Project Manager for a video game company. Fun fact, I’ve got a twin brother!
How did Chinese come into your life? What made you decide to learn Chinese?
I was student in a Business School, I decided to do a gap year to travel abroad, discover the world and improve my English by the same occasion… that’s how Chinese appeared in my life ha ha!
Jokes apart, after a semester in San Francisco as an exchange student, I really wanted to experience something different and live an adventure. I could not imagine anything more different than Asia and China in particular, so I headed to Shanghai for a 6 months internship. I knew nothing about China or Chinese at that time so I did not really know what to expect. It was kind of a crazy idea when I think about it, but I have never regretted it. It was a life changing experience!
How long ago was that? What happened since?
Already 9 years ago! Time flies…
What do you love most about Chinese?
It is such a different language in so many aspects that it looks incredibly difficult for non-initiated people. But when you study it, it really gets demystified… To be able to understand your environment, to be able to interact with the people in their language, and the overall feeling of improving. It is very satisfying!
What are the hardest things for you in learning Chinese?
What I consider to be the hardest thing has changed over time as I have been improving my skills little by little. But I’ve encountered so many obstacles along the way…
The first one was the tones. It really took me a while to be able to recognize and pronounce them. During my first time in China, Taxi drivers were not able to understand me saying the name of the street where I lived… It was really frustrating.
The second was obviously the characters. I started with something very common among foreigners living in China which is to ignore them and learn only the pinyin. It’s only later when I started to learn the reading and writing that I realized how big of a mistake it is… I literally had an epiphany! Because the characters tell you so much about the culture and the language, you really miss a big part of it if you don’t study them. I am convinced you cannot reach a decent level if you don’t learn (at least) how to read. In addition, Mandarin has so many homonyms that it becomes very difficult to remember the vocabulary when you’re not able to picture the character in your head.
Having improved on the first two obstacles, I’m now having difficulties with the structure of complex sentences…
What is your Chinese learning routine like?
I didn’t study continuously during the last 9 years. I started on and off while I was in France and it was really hard to keep the motivation. Especially when your job takes you a lot of time. I have started to (re)study it seriously about a year ago when my project to live in China became more concrete.
When I arrived in Shanghai in September 2015, I enrolled for a semester in Jiaotong University. Evening classes, twice per week, two hours and half per session. It really helped me a lot to improve but they did not have any program to follow-up after this semester.
Now I think I’ve reached some kind of a plateau in my learning curve and I am not improving as fast as in the beginning. So over the last few weeks, I have challenged myself to study one hour every morning before going to work. I also take one hour and half of private lessons per week (which is definitely less than what I would like to); And I am doing language exchange during lunch time with some colleagues who wish to learn French.
Being here in China is obviously a great motivation factor. My goal for the moment is to reach a good conversational Chinese level… I’m not there yet!
How is Ninchanese part of your learning routine?
I discovered Ninchanese in November 2014. I was traveling to China and this is when I decided I wanted to come back there. So I was searching online for tools and methods to improve my Mandarin… it has been part of my daily life since that time!
When you learn a language by yourself, it requires (a lot of) organization and preparation to know where to start and where to go. Ninchanese got me ridden of that burden in a more efficient way than any text book before. I just follow the lessons and review my vocabulary every day. It is the main tool I use in my morning routine. I’m in love with it!
Do you only use Ninchanese or do you use other tools as well? How does Ninchanese help you reach your goals in Chinese?
I have tried many other tools (mostly apps on my phone) but none of them worked out as well as Ninchanese for me… So I’m sticking to it. When I was studying in Jiaotong University, the lessons and vocabulary I had on Ninchanese were incredibly in sync with what I had in the university. It really helped me a lot as a support tool to remember what I saw in class.
What’s your favorite thing about Ninchanese?
I think the flash card system is very well polished. It is the best one I have used and it really helps me to acquire vocabulary.
Any last thoughts?
My advice to Chinese learners, do not focus on pinyin only. Learning how to read characters really helps!