Interview with a star student – Alys Williamson

September is a month filled with academic harvest for ThinkChinese. All students sitting HSK Levels 1-3 in July passed with excellent scores. Two candidates from Level 2 obtained full marks, which is the first time in ThinkChinese’s history. 

Alys with her teacher Jiaying

Among all the achievements, one stands out for her remarkable results having only learned with us for a relatively short time. Alys Williamson obtained 292/300 in her HSK Level 3 exam and A* in her GCSE, that latter result bettering even some native Chinese students in the UK!

Currently in Year 10, Alys started to learn Chinese with us about three years ago. She attends one hour small group tuition each week. She sat HSK Levels 1 and 2 in her first year with us, and Level 3 and GCSE this summer. She surprised many with her quick acquisition of Chinese characters, adaptation to recordings of a fast speed, and ability to produce articles in characters almost effortlessly. As a Chinese teacher and education enthusiast, I’m determined to find out her learning secret, by putting forward a few questions to her. I hope to find more efficient ways for our students to learn Chinese and modern foreign languages more generally. 

  • What was your first impression of Chinese when you first began to learn the language? How did you approach the differences between English and Chinese?

When I first started learning Chinese, I realised that it wasn’t as difficult as I thought it would have been! The discrepancies actually helped me to learn Chinese, because unlike French, it is nothing like English, so it encouraged me to work harder to overcome them. 

  • Quite many learners find tones are very difficult especially at the beginning. What did you think about it when you first started? Do you have any tips for the new beginners?

Like many other people who learn Chinese, I also found tones very bothersome, as it seemed like I could never get them right! Though, when I learn how to read a character, I try to memorise the tones that it has, (which you can see on the Pinyin) and remember that I need to pronounce it differently.

  • In learning the written Chinese characters, what would you say will be the most effective way to remember the characters?

Admittedly, writing Chinese characters is really not one of my strongest skills, in fact, it’s something I find most difficult. This is because I often forget the stroke order, which is very important! To try and overcome this, I practice writing characters multiple times, and put them into a sentence so that I know what context they belong in. You could also make flashcards with either the full character or the stroke order of it to help it stick in your head. 

  • Could you please recommend some extracurricular activities to new Chinese learners, as what you may have done it before?

Aside from lessons, you can also do lots of study at home. I always used apps like Drops, Memrise, and ChineseSkill to help me with characters and new words. You can also use revision cards or books from the author ShaoLan Hsueh, which provides you with fun ways to learn how to read and write characters. It also helps to immerse yourself in the history and culture of China, through novels or factual books, this way, your interest will increase.

With glowing results in hand, Alys didn’t rest. She set out her journey for HSK Level 4 almost immediately. Upon passing Level 4, Alys’s choices for universities will be widened further as many prestigious Chinese universities accept HSK Level 4 and above as proof of language efficiency. In fact, a number of them are within the top 100 world universities according to Times Higher Education World University Ranking 2019. Having completed Chinese GCSE one year ahead of other subjects, Alys is also working hard on her GCSE home stretch. She hopes to get into Hautlieu and when the time comes, to travel to China with ThinkChinese so she can put her language into practice. 

I hope Alys’s story can inspire other Chinese learners and many more like-minded students – in the pursuit of excellent results, they enjoy their study and are persistent and resourceful when difficulties arise. 

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