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Language Learning Stories

Language Learning Stories

Language Learning Stories – featuring Louise Clegg

I love hearing what other language learners have done to get throughout their language learning! I’ve decided to start a new series on Lingo Mama website – dedicated to interviewing language learners! And find out what their secrets are, how they started and what advice they’d give to other language learners.

If you’d like to be featured or know someone who’d be perfect, please get in touch!

Louise Clegg is a long time friend of Lingo Mama. We first met in late 2012 before we set off to Nanjing, China as recipients of the Hamer Scholarship. Louise is based in Melbourne, Australia and speaks Chinese. Read our interview below to learn how Louise first started learning Chinese, what she finds difficult and easy about learning Chinese, her advice for aspiring learners and how she uses her Chinese skills.

Language learner interview series for Lingo Mama
Image: Louise Clegg

Thank you to Louise Clegg for her open and honest answers below.

Why did you decide to start learning Chinese?

It was actually a compulsory subject at my high school so wasn’t much of a choice! Haha! I chose to continue with it as an elective later though because my Dad encouraged me, as I wasn’t bad at it. Once I got to year 11/12, I realised there were no other non-Chinese background learners studying Chinese at my level so thought it could be a good advantage to have over others, so I continued with it. I also enjoyed that I was good-ish at it.

How long have you been learning Chinese for?

Since high school, so on-and-off for 15 years! (Embarrassing given how poor my Chinese still is!) (Lingo Mama’s note – I have witnessed Louise in action speaking Chinese many times and her Chinese is amazing!)

What level would you say you are currently?

I’ve achieved HSK level 5 but my Chinese has probably regressed in most areas since then (2013). (HSK5 is the equivalent of B2-C1 level)

Where have you studied? Have you done any language learning trips?

You absolutely must study in-country or you’ll never learn it well, would be my main advice. I’ve studied at 2 separate uni’s in China for a year each (entirely focused on language-study) and done a short stint to China with Monash Uni for 6 weeks. Other than that I’d say like everyone says to you when you’re in China: get a Chinese girlfriend or boyfriend! (ha, I never did and somewhat regret it!)

What awards have you received?

With regards to Chinese learning, I’ve got an HSK level 5 certificate if that counts! I’ve won several scholarships to go to China including the Victorian Government Hamer scholarship and Australia China Council Scholarship.

What tools and resources do you use/have you relied on?

Pleco is the best for a quick lookup. ChinesePod I’ve used before and it’s been good for flexible online tutors and relevant course material. Nothing is a substitute for living there though and using the language daily.

What’s one of the best or most worthwhile investments you have made to do with your language learning?

Living in China.

Has your motivation for learning gone up and down over the years? How do you keep motivated?

The motivation for Chinese language learning has undoubtedly gone down but then again has never been all that high, to begin with for me! I think Chinese is a hard language to learn because there is such a heavy focus on rote learning and I find that a very difficult and monotonous way to learn. Therefore – and apologies as I know this isn’t a great answer to encourage others – but you do have to really know why you’re doing it before you commit as otherwise you likely won’t stick with it. The main motivating factor once you’ve begun is in the early phases where you are able to notice such huge leaps of improvement in your ability – that is always encouraging.

How have you been able to use your Chinese language skills in your career?

Since beginning to study Chinese post-high school I have only ever worked in jobs where Chinese language skills are required to perform my job. So in that sense, I’ve been incredibly fortunate to continue to use my Chinese language skills nearly every day.

What have you learnt about yourself through learning Chinese?

That I love China and am capable of learning things that initially seem very difficult. It still brings me great enjoyment when I can recognise new words or phrases that I couldn’t previously, and even more so when I am able to use them myself.

What’s the hardest/most challenging thing about learning Chinese?

The monotony of rote learning characters as well as the tones. The 4 tones I still struggle with and don’t think I’ll ever have accurate intonations when I speak Mandarin.

What has been surprisingly easy about your Chinese language learning journey? (If anything?!)

The welcoming nature of so many Chinese people has made it way easier than I would’ve imagined to build up the confidence to practice your Chinese on them. Chinese people in my experience have almost always been very encouraging and patient with me whilst trying to communicate in Chinese with them.

What advice would you give to aspiring Chinese language learners?

Know why you’re doing it and be prepared for the dedication it requires.

If you had your time again, would you learn Chinese, another language or no language at all?

I would definitely learn Chinese again. I don’t know where I’d be without it!

What are your language plans for the future?

I’m currently working in a role that helps my company understand the regulatory environment for our products in China and how to get our products sold there. I feel I am uniquely positioned to help Australian FMCG companies break into/grow their brands into the China market. So, next year my husband and I plan on moving back to China to further develop these skills with the intention of becoming experts in this area to add greater value to Australian companies in this space.


Do you have a question for Louise Clegg?  Add your questions and thoughts in the comments below!

If you’d like to suggest someone for me to interview or have a question you’d like me to put forward, get in touch with me!


Until next time,

Lingo Mama


Penelope Wilson

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