Alumni Spotlight: Matthew Fidler

Matthew Fidler has lived and worked as an educator in the cities of Shanghai, Taipei, and Suzhou. He has a great interest in studying Chinese culture, history, and (of course) language. He began studying Mandarin at National Taiwan Normal University and thanks to assistance from teachers at NTNU and Silk Mandarin has achieved success in the HSK exams.


Why did you choose this program?

When I arrived in Suzhou for work I wanted to expand on my Chinese reading, writing, speaking and listening. To that end, I needed a school which would be willing to go beyond simple conversational lessons and be willing to help me with my reading and writing as well. In addition, because I was working, I required an institution capable of working around my busy schedule. During my first visit to their facilities I was very impressed by the professionalism of Silk Mandarin’s staff and the quality of their instructional materials. I knew that it was the right place to achieve my goals.

What did your program provider (or university) assist you with, and what did you have to organize on your own?

Since I was already living and working in Suzhou I thought there weren’t many things I needed my school to set up for me. However, my program still assisted me with many things to facilitate my language learning. My school provided textbooks and workbooks, as well as access to their library of graded readers. Most conveniently, when the time came, they arraigned for me to take the HSK test appropriate to my level and handled the shipping and reception of my official scores. I was responsible for helping to select a class and homework schedule which worked for both me and my teacher.

What is one piece of advice you'd give to someone going on your program?

Do not allow setbacks to become disasters! Learning any language is difficult and learning a language with a completely different writing system is doubly so. I personally had many situations where poor pronunciation or imperfect use of grammar led to a misunderstanding in my daily life in China. This can lead to a decrease in your motivation to learn and a decrease in your practice time. Fortunately I had a great teacher who worked hard to reignite my passion for Chinese and this kept my motivation from fading away. The only way to fail at learning a language is by giving up!

What does an average day/week look like as a participant of this program?

The average day or week in this program varies based on the needs and situation of the student. For my part I attended an individual class three times a week for two hours before heading off to my workplace. Students with a less hectic schedule can opt for longer group classes and can take advantage of the many recreational and cultural events that the school organises for weekends and holidays. Still, no matter your schedule, there are always opportunities to interact with staff and other students as part of the Silk Mandarin community.

Going into your experience abroad, what was your biggest fear, and how did you overcome it? How did your views on the issue change?

My biggest fear in going abroad was that I would not be accepted into a community and that I would fail in my language learning goals. My language program and the welcoming people of China helped me overcome these fears. I always felt like I was part of a learning community among my fellow students and my accommodating teachers. When you have people you can ask questions to and bounce ideas off of the day to day difficulties of living abroad become much more manageable. My fear of failure was further mollified as I saw my conversations with locals become more fluid and comprehensible. Over time I started to view interacting in Chinese not as a frightening prospect, but as a fun and helpful way to test knowledge and learn new ways of communicating.

How did this program accommodate your unique learning style and language goals?

Silk Mandarin was extremely focused on my goals from the outset: when I explained that I wanted to pass HSK tests within a certain timeframe they immediately started working out a study plan to get me where I wanted to be when I wanted to be there. As my unique weaknesses and strengths started to become apparent my teacher adjusted our activities in class. For example in order to address my low HSK listening scores much more time was spent on listening practice. What’s more, as time went on and my priorities shifted my teacher was willing and able to help me with new goals and ambitions. A good example of this is when I wanted to become more proficient in writing Chinese characters from memory and so my teacher assigned and even graded additional writing practice on top of the program’s standard workbook homework. The flexibility and individual care I received is perhaps what I found most impressive about Silk Mandarin’s program.