Representational image. Photo: iStock
Representational image. Photo: iStock

Last month, I wrote about how to leverage your Chinese skills in the workplace as a young professional. However, sometimes the stars don’t align and you find yourself on a career path with absolutely nothing to do with Mandarin (or insert any other foreign language of your choice). You invested years and years building this skill and now you spend at least eight hours a day not using it. So how do you keep Chinese in your life? Below are some simple ways to make room for it in your weekly routine.

Regularly attend a language corner or other cultural events

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I don’t mean just showing up on Mid-Autumn Festival and Lunar New Year to eat moon cakes and dumplings. Find recurring events to attend where you can meet others who share your interests and engage your cultural and linguistic knowledge. Check or your local Confucius Institute to find a Chinese corner, salon discussion, movie viewing, lecture, or similar event in your area. Try to go at least once or twice per month. Any less frequent than that, and you may feel rusty each time.

Self study

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Some people like listening to Chinese-language podcasts or reading Chinese newspapers. I always did well with textbook learning. I hit a point a few years ago where I thought I was done with classroom Chinese and could only benefit from immersive, real-world experience. While the latter is certainly necessary, I started to miss some aspects of Chinese class, such as introductions to lots of new vocabulary at a time, clear grammar explanations, and examples of formal or written-language registers. So I bought myself a textbook on business Chinese and pretended I was back in school. I give myself “听写” (dictation) quizzes to drive home new words and I memorize reading passages to give my brain a pattern for using these words in context. Sometimes this method is more helpful at making words stick in my brain than picking them up from casual conversation.

Surround yourself with others who speak the language

This touches back on #1. A good way to meet these people is through those cultural events. This past autumn, I met a Taiwanese international student at language corner. We went sightseeing at Mount Vernon together, speaking a mix of Chinese and English the whole time. Do things you were going to do anyway, but invite your Chinese-speaking friends along to put your language skills to use in a real-life, casual setting. I also still check WeChat (mostly lurking in group chats) to keep up with my reading and writing. This keeps me up to date on Chinese memes and pop culture, along with current events. Staying in touch with alumni from my college Chinese program and my Teach English in China program provides another good outlet for networking in the Chinese-learner community. Building Chinese into your daily social life helps keep studying from becoming a chore.

Remember: you don’t have to let go of Chinese just because it didn’t end up being relevant to your career

Remember: you don’t have to let go of Chinese just because it didn’t end up being relevant to your career. Studying a language is a lifetime journey; if you don’t use it, it will disappear. So if Chinese is really important to you, integrate it into your hobbies, your friend group, your daily life. Chinese is becoming a more and more influential language; you may just want to keep your hold on it!

Carly O'Connell is a young professional in the D.C. metro area who has dedicated over half her life to studying Chinese language and culture. During college, she participated in an intensive language immersion program for a semester in Beijing and upon graduation she spent a year teaching English in Changzhou, China. She's visited over 15 different Chinese cities.