An entire Chinese family at Mandarin Corner

Kaiping (at right) and her family come from Nanjing City (close to Shanghai). Kaiping is a visiting scholar at U of T.

Kaiping (at right) and her family come from Nanjing City (close to Shanghai). Kaiping is a visiting scholar at U of T.

When you tell someone that you speak Mandarin (and you aren’t from China), they might say something like, “Huh? What!? Why? Are you serious?” or “Chinese is so hard to learn! How did you do it?”

I agree, it is difficult—but not impossible—to learn Mandarin. The written language is the most difficult (you have to memorize many characters—at least 800—to be able to read a newspaper), but the spoken language is easier; once the concept of the four tones is assimilated, vocabulary and grammar start to fall into place.

I have been learning and speaking Mandarin for four years. Does that make me an expert? Of course not! For one, I didn’t have much opportunity to practice when I left China. When I came back to Paris, I lived far from le quartier chinois (Chinatown). Not to mention in Paris the Chinatown is one-third the size of Toronto’s Spadina and Dundas Chinatown. So, I had few occasions to keep up the language.

Khady and Steven enjoy a slice of xigua

Khady and Steven enjoy a slice of xigua

What I really appreciate during Diskuto Mandarin Corner are the opportunities to talk with native speakers and also listen to them—even though I do only catch 70% of the conversation. However, when re-immersed in the language that steep learning curve kicks back in and helps a lot to refresh my memory. I’ve also been inspired get back to school this September to take a Mandarin class and prepare for the Hànyǔ Shuǐpíng Kǎoshì (HSK) exam (in Chinese, 汉语水平考试).

At French and Spanish corners, we offer people candy when they talk to us, as a fun incentive to break the ice. At Mandarin events, they get watermelon (西瓜 xīguā). Watermelon is very popular in China; it’s even become a trend to dress little kids in watermelon outfits.

As always, I have a great experience at Mandarin corner. Recently I met Kaiping, one of our Diskuto公民  (Diskuto gongming, Diskutizen in English) who brought her entire family to participate, helping out both the regular guests and first-time passersby all keep learning and practising.

Kaiping sent us this kind testimony:

Diskuto is a good place to interact with other cultures, meet new friends and help others learn or practice Mandarin. For me it was a great first experience to see how Western people see China. Kedi and Borun know already a lot about China and Chinese culture. For Chinese people it is really nice to see non-Asian people who want to learn more Chinese. I definitely recommend Diskuto to those who want to practice and learn Mandarin. Diskuto team is easygoing and passionate.

非常感谢!!! (Fēicháng gǎnxiè which means thank you very much)

Thank you Kaiping!


Khady arrived to Toronto from Paris. She lived in several countries such as China, Mexico, Senegal and Spain. Because of her many travels, she speaks fluently four languages: French, Spanish, Wolof and English. She is brushing up her Mandarin in Toronto. When she’s not learning different languages, she likes to cook and play the acoustic guitar.

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  1. […] Over at the Diskuto blog Khady explains why it’s much easier to keep up her Mandarin in Toronto than in Paris. Read full post. […]

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