By Ping Zhang (SCIBC Chinese Co-Director) and
Wei Gu (SCIBC Mandarin Chinese Teacher )
Robin Wilson is a second year student of the Department of Languages & Intercultural Studies (LINCS) at Heriot-Watt University, majoring in International Business Management and Chinese. He is also an excellent student of SCIBC at Heriot-Watt University. Robin is native Scottish, born and bred in Irvine. He started to learn Chinese when he was a high school student. He was awarded “Confucius Institute for Scotland’s Schools Scholarship” for the 2017-2018 academic year, and studied Chinese in the City of Tianjin for one year.
At this point in time, Robin has been learning Chinese for almost five years and has been supported by CI teachers for two years. He has made quite a few remarkable achievements in Chinese learning. In September 2020, Robin won the Second Prize of the 19th Chinese Bridge-Chinese Language Proficiency Competition UK Regional Final, thereby qualifying for the Competition for Foreign University Students on behalf of the UK and finally winning the outstanding performance award. In April 2021, Robin attended the Chinese Competition of Charitable Projects and Business Innovations for UK College Students. With his creative business plan “Second-hand E-Commerce for the Low-Carbon Economy” and his nearly perfect performance in Q&A section, he gained the third prize, which enabled him to receive a job offer from a British enterprise “China Hour”. During the Spring Festival of 2021, Robin recorded a video about Chinese cuisine for the SCIBC, and also participated in video recording for the program “Foreigners talking about China” organised by the Chinese Embassy in the UK. In April 2021, to celebrate the UN Chinese Language Day, Robin and his friends co-created a video “Spring Memories”, for which he was awarded the title of “Youth Cultural Ambassador”, and this video was also broadcasted on official UN platforms and global media partnerships. On the 20th Chinese Bridge-Chinese Language Proficiency Competition UK Regional Final held on 26 June 2021, Robin was given the honour of co-hosting the competition and left a deep impression on the audience with his high level of proficiency in Chinese and steady hosting style. In July 2021, Robin and his friends co-created a video “My China Story” and won the third prize on the video contest hosted by the Consulate General of the PRC in Edinburgh.
Robin’s enthusiasm for learning Chinese and his love of Chinese culture has helped him make many Chinese friends. As well as being a star student of the SCIBC, he is also well known among the Chinese Embassy in UK, the Chinese Consulate-General in Edinburgh, and the organisers of the local Chinese Bridge competition. Let’s hear his stories and tips on Chinese learning!
Q: What do you think is the most difficult part in Chinese learning?
Robin: I think writing Chinese characters is the most difficult part. I know there are many foreigners learning Chinese who find the tones the most difficult to grasp. However, for me, it’s not the tones but the writing of Chinese characters.
Q: Your ability to speak and listen is so good that you can chat with Chinese people without communication difficulties in your daily life. How do you usually practice your Chinese?
Robin: Firstly, I think the most important thing is to avoid being too shy to speak up. Try to be brave! Supported by a scholarship, I went to the City of Tianjin, China in 2017. At that time, many foreign students around me were afraid to speak Chinese, but I wasn’t. I spent all day with native Chinese, and I was never afraid of speaking up even if I made mistakes. After all, Scottish people often speak English incorrectly too! When I communicate with people in Chinese, which is not my mother tongue, no one will laugh at me, and I don’t have to be shy. I try and talk to local Chinese people as much as possible and learn the most frequently used Chinese expressions from them. Secondly, practice can be done in a variety of ways. During the period of lockdown in Scotland, I often only use Chinese when speaking with my twin brother, who also has a good proficiency in Chinese language. I also usually watch a lot of movies and TV shows in Chinese, and I even use Chinese a lot when I talk on the phone. Now I have a good grasp of Chinese for daily communication, but sometimes I still have some difficulties expressing myself in Chinese when discussing more complicated social issues. This is the area I’d like to improve on in the future.
Q: Do you feel that your life has changed in any way with the deepening of Chinese learning?
Robin: Too many changes! Incredible changes, I have to say! Learning Chinese has brought me so many opportunities, especially since I started to learn Chinese at both Heriot-Watt University and SCIBC two years ago. Using Chinese as a bridge, I have made so many friends from all over the world. Learning Chinese has also provided me with more job opportunities. When applying for jobs, I’m often hired right away. The opportunities throw themselves at you. Taking part in the Chinese Bridge competition and other Chinese cultural activities have also enriched my life experience which in turn contributes to the formation of my worldviews and social values.
Q: Do you have any personal plans for the future by taking advantage of your excellent Chinese language skills?
Robin: Chinese would be indispensible in my future plans. My top priority is to do something that allows me to speak Chinese and go to China more often. Now China is developing very rapidly, and there are more and more job opportunities. Taking advantage of my Chinese language skills, my dream job for the future would be working in diplomacy to promote exchanges in many fields between China and the UK, or between China and Scotland. I have noticed that some British people working in Sino-British diplomacy are fluent in using Chinese, so I think with my advantages in the language I could really make a positive difference.
Q: Do you have any comments or suggestions for the SCIBC?
Robin: The SCIBC at Heriot-Watt University has been providing me with so many good opportunities. The SCIBC particularly pays attention to my studies, considering me whenever there are good platforms and exchange opportunities. My New Year’s resolution was to seize every opportunity that comes my way. Up until now, I’ve taken up so many opportunities offered to me by the SCIBC and have been extremely pleased with the outcomes. The SCIBC has been a great help to me, and I really appreciate their help. I think the Confucius Institute is very important for Heriot-Watt University, especially when it comes to Chinese-related majors, because not only can we learn Chinese language from CI teachers, but we can also gain a much deeper understanding of authentic Chinese culture by interacting with native Chinese people. This sort of education is harder to get from British teachers. The SCIBC should keep its close ties with Heriot-Watt University in the future so that the students majoring in Chinese language will always have access to the great platforms and opportunities it provides.
Q: Could you please offer some tips for learning to other Chinese learners?
Robin: Firstly, be brave and speak up, don’t be afraid of making spoken errors. There is a saying in Chinese: “Failure is the mother of success” so it shouldn’t be something to fear. Secondly, attach more importance to the tones when you start to learn Chinese language because the ability to speak is more practical than to write. Thirdly, overcome your shyness, practice as much as possible, and communicate more with native Chinese speakers.
Like Robin, in Scotland there are many honest, energetic and hardworking students who love Chinese language and culture. Chinese language also gives them wings to fulfill their dreams. The SCIBC at Heriot-Watt University will do its utmost to help them with their Chinese language learning, teaching them with love and patience so as to make them become cultural ambassadors for Sino-British friendship by using Chinese language as a bridge. As reflected in the Chinese saying: “Affinity between peoples is the foundation of state-to-state relations”, the Confucius Institutes are increasingly recognised by more and more university students like Robin, and the Sino-British friendship is one that is sure to last for a long time.