For those of you who might be wondering, this is not about how to learn Mandarin but rather a brief overview of my recent four week trip to three cities in China to examine for LAMDA.

As with much foreign travel, it had it’s moments of frustration e.g. the surprising (to me) lack of English spoken in Beijing and Shanghai; the terrible driving of the Chinese nationals (there might have been some rules of the road but I don’t think anyone had learnt them!) the 7 hour time difference which meant that most of the time I had to sort out problems myself as contacts at home were likely to be asleep during my working day.

Little niggles aside, however, there was a great deal to enjoy.  The hard work and dedication of the English & Drama staff that I met in the 4 schools where I examined was inspiring.  Most were ex-pats who had moved abroad because they were fed up with the paperwork, targets and general dumbing down of their profession in the U.K.  None had any intention of returning.  Well, would you if your drama department had an annual budget of £20,000!

The students were polite, well prepared and eager to learn.  I marvelled continually at the young teenagers performing there dramatic extracts and delivering their prepared Public Speaking with good command of English (for most it was their second language).  I wonder how many of the U.K.’s 15 and 16 year olds could deliver a programme in Mandarin, or even French or Spanish!

We do take our language for granted don’t we and we would do well to remember that when communicating abroad, we are ambassadors for our language.  The next time you take part in a webinar with foreign contacts do make sure that you slow your pace and work hard to speak with clarity.

The Chinese have a reputation for being a little ‘cold’ in their dealings with strangers but I remember some individuals fondly.  At the Crowne Plaza, Beijing, Ana (a trainee restaurant manager from Spain), who asked what I liked to drink and brought it to me every morning without being asked.  Emily Chen, who had some English and was a pastry chef.  On the breakfast buffet she was amused to find that ‘Marble syrup’ was not quite the right accompaniment for waffles and made it her mission to get a new sign.  By the time I left to was ‘Syrup Maple’ – well that’s nearly right!  And finally, Jo-Li-Bow, a limousine driver,who took pity on this little English lady faced with the vast Summer Palace to explore and bought a ticket and came in with me – complete with suit and tie!  He had not a word of English and I had no Mandarin but we spent a delightful two and half hours together exploring that beautiful place, both snapping away with our phone cameras.  His rang several times and I was quite amused to image what was being said about him going AWOL!

So, would I go again if asked?  Yes, but perhaps not for a month.  It’s a long time to put up with your own company.  I would like to visit as a tourist and really explore what the country has to offer.

Happy travelling everyone.  There’s a world of opportunity waiting for you out there.

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