Why I started studying Chinese

I started studying Chinese during my first year in University, back in 2002. I studied Translation and Interpreting, my first foreign language was English and my second foreign language was German. I wanted to choose a third language but didn’t know which one.

It was a hot day in the summer of 2002 and I had travelled by bus to Granada with my mum to do my university registration. I don’t know if it’s still like this but back then you had to go there in person to fill out all the papers. So there I was, filling the registration forms in the faculty hall and thinking which third language I should study. There were a lot of options: French, Italian, Russian, Arabic, Portuguese… I wasn’t feeling particularly attracted to any of them. Then the faculty receptionist came to my help. She was a cheerful woman already in her sixties. “You can try with Chinese, the professor is very friendly and everybody passes the exams“. What? Chinese? I wasn’t specially interested in Chinese and I hardly knew anything about China. But I said: “Ok! I will try”.

And she was right. Professor Zhang was a middle-aged, joyful man from Xi’an with a musical passion. He would sing Chinese opera in class with his baritone, rich voice, and sometimes he would play the violin. Of course, we would also study. There weren’t any books to learn Chinese in Spanish so we used a photocopied book in English from Beijing Language and Culture University. So for me it’s easier to translate words between Chinese and English than between Chinese and Spanish, because I always learned Chinese through English.

The second year I had 2 professors. One was a visiting professor from China. Once she took us to her apartment to make jiaozi and eat them together. The other professor was a Spanish man who had lived in China for a long time. I remember he made us read aloud in the class and would ask a lot of questions in Chinese. I could hardly understand anything and it was really exhausting. While in the first year there were around 60 students in the class, in the second year we were 15 or so. When it started getting difficult people just left.

On the third and fourth years the lessons were not Chinese language, but Chinese-Spanish translation. There were even less students, maybe 10. The professor was a Spanish guy who was also a translator. He kept on telling us that after graduating we should go to China to really learn Chinese, as in Spain we could just learn the basics.

And I did as he told me. But I didn’t think I would stay for so long.