HSBC/British Council Mandarin Competition by Dave Vickers
At the HSBC and British Council Mandarin speaking competition final at the British Museum, Susana Galvan reflects on the opportunities that learning a language offers and how it can sometimes change the course of your life.
I had heard about the HSBC and British Council Mandarin speaking competition final at the British Museum, but I had never witnessed it first-hand. This year I was there as one of the welcoming speakers, in representing the British Council. The competition brings together talented students from across the UK to show off their Chinese language skills to a panel of illustrious and very impressive native and non-native Chinese-speaking judges.
After regional heats in London and Newcastle, where 300 students from 27 secondary schools compete in individual and group categories, the best 90 make it to the final. And this year, their Chinese language skills and cultural knowledge were put to the test once again. And the prize, you may ask? Well, the ten winners will be travelling to China to experience everything they have learned, up close and personal – quite a prize!
I was very excited to be invited to give one of the welcoming speeches, alongside representatives from the British Museum, HSBC and the panel of judges – not only because of the buzz of the competition, which I had heard so much about, but also for personal reasons, which I shared with the audience as part of my speech.
I was born in Barcelona (many years ago now!) and as a child, I dreamt of travelling and seeing the world. I had a particular fascination for learning languages, and I was lucky enough that my parents pushed me to learn English from a very young age.
The Chinese believe in something they call 缘分 or ‘yuánfèn’, which basically means that there is a predetermined principle that dictates a person’s relationships with others and with events in life – a bit like believing in ‘destiny’.
Well it was definitely ‘destiny’ that got me to study Chinese in the first place, as a twist of fate got me learning this language pretty much by an administrative accident, when I started my Translation and Interpreting degree in Barcelona, many moons ago.
The same way I fell in love with the English language, this twist of fate made me fall in love with the Chinese language and with the Chinese culture. One thing led to another, like a magic puzzle where all the pieces start fitting together: I got a scholarship to go to China, then one to come to the UK to do a second degree in Chinese studies and then I flew to Taiwan where I joined the British Council and where I lived for 9 years.
After that I was in Malaysia where – ‘yuánfèn’ struck again: I fell in love and married my husband (who is half Chinese!).
So what I want to say to all these British youngsters, who have just started their ‘Chinese journey’, is this: learning languages opens the door to the world out there, it allows you to understand other cultures, other people, to talk, to share, to make friends, to trust each other and even to fall in love! It expands your horizons as well as your career opportunities; it makes you a citizen of the world.
I felt very proud to be able to be there, and see the determination of these young participants, and that the British Council, in partnership with HSBC, enables them to do this.