Lifelong Language Learning: China

Lifelong Language Learning: Teo in China

Big Bird in Guilin, ChinaLike many 80s babies, I was a huge fan of Big Bird. The first movie I saw in the theater was Follow That Bird, and some of my earliest interest in languages and cultures was inspired by Big Bird in China. For most of my adult life I’ve dedicated myself to developing my Spanish, but now I’ve set my sights on learning Mandarin Chinese. My trip to China this summer allowed me to further my Chinese language learning, and also to fulfill a childhood dream of following in the footsteps of my yellow-feathered hero. It wasn’t until the end of my trip that I realized Big Bird visited the Guilin province just like I did!

Hong Kong

My first stop in China was Hong Kong. If you follow the news, you’ll know there’s been a lot happening in Hong Kong recently, but while I was there things were pretty calm. In Hong Kong, most people speak Cantonese and not Mandarin. I mostly used English in Hong Kong, with little attempts at Mandarin here and there. I also used a lot of hand gestures! Hong Kong had pretty great weather while I was there, and I enjoyed exploring the bustling metropolis. I stayed at the Alohas Hostel in Kowloon which put me right in the center of the city. One of my highlights was a visit to the Hong Kong Museum of History. There I came to have a better understanding of British involvement in China, from the Opium Wars (1839 to 1860) to the return of Hong Kong to Chinese control (1997).

Yangshuo (Omeida Chinese Academy)

Road in Yangshuo, ChinaAfter a few days in Hong Kong, I boarded a train for mainland China. I would spend the next four weeks at the Omeida Chinese Academy in Yangshuo. Yangshuo is a city in the province of Guilin. It draws a lot of tourists because of its beautiful karst landscapes. As long as I was in Yangshuo, the views never ceased to impress me. Omeida provided a small place to stay just a couple blocks away from the school. I shared the room with a Chinese man who was studying English at Omeida’s English Academy.

Teo with two of his Chinese teachers.As for classes, I was in Omeida’s intensive Chinese program for beginners. This meant three 45 minute classes in the morning and three more in the afternoon. That’s 4.5 hours of Chinese class a day! Outside of class I heard Chinese at the school canteen, in meetings with my language partner, and around town. Over the course of my four weeks, I had three different teachers. As a language teacher myself, I’m a bit particular about how I want to be taught. I really appreciated the way all my teachers worked to offer me the kind of classes I wanted. I mostly focused on my listening comprehension and I really saw my ability grow while I was at Omeida.

Image of Teo in Longji Rice TerracesWhen I wasn’t in class, I got to explore Yangshuo and the surrounding area. The first weekend that I spent in town, I went to see the Liu Sanjie Impression Light Show performance on the Li River. It was beautiful and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I also got up really early one morning with some other students to go see the sunrise from Husband Mountain. We were far from the only ones there but we all got to see some amazing views.  I explored the countryside by bike and electric scooter, and even got to explore some caves! One of the highlights of my trip was a visit that Omeida organized to the Longji Rice Terraces in Longsheng. I highly recommend a visit to Longsheng if you visit Yangshuo.


Teo and Friends in BeijingWhen my time ended in Yangshuo, I boarded a plane for Beijing where I connected with my Chinese language partner, Wendy. Back in 2018, I met Wendy through the Hello Talk app and started doing a bit of a language exchange with her. It was awesome to be able to meet her in person! She introduced me to her aunt and uncle, and they were unbelievably generous to me during my three days in Beijing. They took me to the Great Wall, and also to The Palace Museum and the Forbidden City. It was awesome to have friends take me around like personal local guides as I discovered China’s capital for the first time. While they spoke English way better than I speak Chinese, they talked in Chinese amongst themselves a good bit and I was surprised to see just how much I could understand!

Back Home

Now that I’m back in Chattanooga, I’m continuing to work on the language skills that I developed on in China. I spend time on the Hello Chinese app daily. I am taking an online class with an awesome Chinese teacher named Diane Neubauer. And every day I take some time to read in Chinese. Right now, I’m reading Susan Yǒu Máfán by Terry Waltz. Last time I read it, I focused on the pinyin but now I’m trying to read it in characters.

Language learning is a long journey but I’m making progress, little by little. I feel super fortunate to have been able to get a bit of a jump forward with so much focused learning time on this incredible trip!

Some research has indicated that even in optimal conditions, learning a language can easily take more than 1,500 hours. It’s hard to dedicate that amount of time without getting some concentrated hours of exposure through an intensive class, abroad trip, or a language camp. If you’re trying to figure out how to make progress in your language journey, please contact us for a free consultation ( We’d love to help make your language learning dream a reality.

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