An insight into learning Chinese – an interview with Keren Liu from Unconventional Chinese
Written by Juliette Pitt
Continuing with our interviews with different experts, this week we spoke to Ms. Keren Liu an educational entrepreneur who teaches Chinese via her online platform called Unconventional Chinese.
Ms. Keren Liu is a Chinese teacher and has been teaching foreigners Chinese for over 10 years. She has clients from the U.S., the UK and Southeast Asia and has taught Chinese to lots of students across many different ages. Just recently she launched an online platform called Unconventional Chinese and through her YouTube and Instagram channel she has attracted a lot of followers.
#Our Interview with Keren Liu
- What interested you in teaching Chinese?
I’ve taught Chinese both officially and part-time for over 10 years. I wanted to become a teacher and teach the Chinese language and culture to foreigners overseas. Personally, I wanted to live abroad, and teaching Chinese was the right avenue for me to achieve this.
- Why do you think it is important for foreigners to learn Chinese?
Everyone has their own reason to learn Chinese which is important for them. I think overall learning Chinese is important for foreigners who are interested in the culture, as it allows foreigners to be open-minded and interact and engage with the culture.
- What do you find with your students is the main motivation for them to learn Chinese?
At first, I thought many of my students wanted to learn Chinese to better their careers and earn more money. But I was wrong. I find many of my students want to learn Chinese to learn more about the Chinese culture because they like it and are interested. Many of my students are open-minded and are open to travelling to China and many want to learn Chinese because they want to be able to communicate for example with their martial arts teacher or Chinese friends. Oddly, I often find Western doctors are interested in learning the language because they want to learn more about the traditional Chinese medicines to use in their practice. Another reason I find is that many of my students want to study in China and thus want to learn and immerse into the culture by learning the language. There are many different reasons I come across and each student has their own personal motivation towards learning Chinese.
- What do foreigners struggle with the most when learning Chinese?
I’ve taught both children and adults Chinese and I find they both have their different struggles. For example, with children, I find they that they struggle to keep focused. Whilst they learn quickly, often I have to use games and other fun methods to teach them Chinese. With the adults, I find they struggle the most with speaking Chinese. Whilst they may have learned the foundation of Chinese through say a textbook, I find that they cannot often express themselves and properly communicate with me in Chinese. Some can’t even say a sentence! The reason for this I think is because the adult students do not invest enough ‘input’ into the language. I think Chinese and particularly the vocabulary should be taught within different contexts, only by comprehensively inputting into the language will the student achieve the desired output, fluency.
Comprehensible input is a theory developed by Dr. Steve Krashen and I think when learning a new language such as Chinese it is the golden rule! At the end of the day, students are not a dictionary and the perfect solution for students to overcome their struggles when learning Chinese is comprehensible input. If you want to master any language you need to give a lot of input and that input should be comprehensible. Once that it is achieved the output will come naturally. And it works! For example, one of my clients came to me as he still couldn’t speak or understand Chinese even after a few months of learning. Once I introduced him to comprehensible input, he slowly got the hang of it and could communicate and most importantly understand his Chinese friends.
- Do you have any tips or tricks for our students on how best to learn Chinese from home/online?
So, in order to comprehensively input into the language, there are many different ways students can effectively learn Chinese. For starters, students should change their phones or laptop settings into Chinese. By changing elements of your daily life or swapping your interests/hobbies into Chinese based sources, only then you will be able to immerse into the language.
I would also advise students to watch Chinese TV, movies and read Chinese novels. Whilst making Chinese friends can help it is not the best way as I often find through my student’s experiences that the Chinese like to practice their English with them. But staying with non-speaking English homestay family is a good alternative way to immerse yourself into the language.
Most importantly, I would advise students to find the right teacher suited to your learning objectives. The best way is to find a teacher who teaches to you in Chinese as then from outset you are effectively ‘inputting’ into the language.
We would like to thank Ms. Keren Liu for her time and insight into teaching Chinese to foreigners. If you would like to learn more about Keren Liu and her platform Unconventional Chinese, you can connect to her here on LinkedIn.
We hope this blog has provided you with more insight into the many different aspects of learning Chinese. If you have enjoyed the style of this article, please feel free to comment below and perhaps suggest an expert we can try to interview to share more interesting stories and insights into Chinese language and culture.