Sunday, April 18News For London

The British are mastering the art of Chinese

Increasingly the British are learning to speak Chinese and are following celebrities, such as Mark Zuckerberg, who spoke perfect Chinese in a recent Q&A. By: Di Bai. Subbed by: Kait Borsay

Maisie with Paddington Bear
Maisie with Paddington Bear

Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg gave a Q&A in Mandarin Chinese when he was visiting Tsinghua University in 2014. And British actress Vanessa Branch shocked audiences when she began speaking fluent Chinese during an episode of Entourage and in the film Suburban Girl.

“My family is like a Chinese family. My mother and brother can speak and read Chinese,” says Maisie Evans, an English 26-year-old flight attendant who can speak perfect Chinese.

Maisie is a flight attendant who works for Virgin Atlantic and flies from London to Shanghai regularly once a week.  She enjoys making friends with the many Chinese on the flight. She said: “Chinese people are polite and friendly. I am able to help a lot of them during the flight.

“It is not fair,” she saysseriously. “If a Chinese person finds out I can speak their language, they praise me for my Chinese. But the British will not praise for you if you are Chinese and can speak fluent English.”

As the world’s factory, China’s economy is booming. Doing business with China is inevitable these days. Private aircraft companies are trying to sell jets to the wealthy Chinese, movie stars and singers are targeting the Chinese to raise money, tourism attractions are running advertisements to attract the bulging Chinese purse.

Global Blue, a retail-tourism company, found that for 82 per cent of Chinese travellers shopping was a crucial part of their travel plans. In Britain, they spend nearly £1,700 per person per trip, three times the market average.

Maisie started studying Chinese ten years ago. “I studied Chinese by myself. I watched a lot of Chinese TV series,” she says. At the moment, Maisie is watching a popular Chinese reality show called Running Man. S“It is really funny, I watch the program as soon as it comes out on the Internet.”

Maisie’s mother is her inspiration for learning the language. Fiona Evans says: “All my family’s British friends are learning Chinese. The family likes Chinese culture. They think studying Chinese is trendy.”

Maisie has visited China five times and the trips hold really good memories for her: “I just got some photos from my dearest Chinese friend, I miss the time in China when we were traveling together, those crazy and happy times,” she writes on a Wechat post.

As a Brit, Maisie uses Wechat more often than Facebook. Wechat is the most popular social media in China, it is like a Chinese version of MSN’s Messenger. But learning Chinese has not been easy: “It seems I am going to spend my life learning Chinese but still I can’t get all the knowledge about it,” she says. “China is so big, every area has different local culture.”

Maisie’s proficiency in Chinese earns her some extra money, too. Modifying theses for Chinese students in London is one of her part-time jobs. Helping Chinese friends and earning money at the same time, she is more than satisfied.

Mark Zuckerberg speaking Chinese at Tsinghua University in Beijing.