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South African policewoman spellbound by Mandarin

By Zhang Jiexian (People's Daily Online)    13:48, January 23, 2015
Caroline dines at the canteen of her school in Beijing.

“I told myself next year this time I will be speaking fluent Mandarin. I love China, and all these time I’ve been thinking about going back. But I was there to represent my country, to bring back what I’ve learnt. And now my country needs me here.”

As 2015 being “The Year of China” in South Africa, a variety of activities are going to take place this year in S.A., such as cultural promotions, art exchanges, business fairs, academic seminars and educational exchanges.

Early in the year of 2013, Caroline Gladys Matjila-Botlhoko was sent to Beijing, capital of China as the representative of South African Police Service, for a one-year training project.

“Life-time opportunity”

Caroline was one of the first three Africans invited by this annual project organized by Chinese government in the past 8 years. The other two were from Angola. Policemen and policewomen from 17 countries were sent to China to learn Chinese language, being divided into 3 classes. And Caroline was in Class 3, which means nothing was known about Mandarin by its students.

“I didn’t know anything about China, didn’t know where I was going.” Caroline recalled, ”But I told myself I was going. I wanted to see that place. I wanted to see China.”

Caroline had only seen China from television and magazines, but regarded it as a “life-time opportunity”. Seemed quite certain and determined about the trip, she volunteered to participate in the project.

Bursting into tears

With her first time flying, Caroline embraced the mysterious eastern land with curiosity.

“In few days I got sick.” It was freezing cold in Beijing. Caroline went to the chemistry but failed to communicate with the doctors there with language barriers. “They kept repeating 听不懂 (Ting-bu-dong, which means they can’t understand). I was so confused about what those people were saying. ” She admitted bursting into tears several times in the dormitory, but that’s definitely not the way she surmounted the obstacle.

Within a few months she managed to speak basic Mandarin. For a foreigner, the task is immense — a mammoth memorization challenge on top of the ordinary one of learning to speak a foreign tongue, especially when it’s undertaken in one’s adulthood.

Besides a large amount of unfamiliar characters and pronunciations, the hardest part for non-Asians is probably mastering the “tones”: a character pronounced with a falling pitch means something completely different with the one pronounced with a rising, flat or dipping pitch.

“I told myself I was going to study a lot, so that I could master the language. To tell the truth, it’s hard. But meanwhile, it’s very interesting for me.” Caroline took Reading, Writing, and verbal Chinese Courses as part of the project. During her spare time, she kept practicing speaking Mandarin with her tutor, a Chinese student from Beijing Foreign Studies University.

“The Good Monitor”

“Chinese people are friendly, generous, diligent and warm-hearted. And the country is taking good care of its people.” Caroline is referring to its police system equipped with high-techniques.

During the project, they visited different police stations around Beijing every week, met and interacted with local policemen. That’s also one of the ways she caught up with her Mandarin study.

“Some of our teachers were really strict with us. I still remember that Bai Lao-Shi (teacher) never allowed us to speak English. We had to talk in Chinese in her class.” With limited vocabulary, Caroline kept quiet and preserved at the very beginning. No one would imagine her representing the class to give a speech in Mandarin at the graduation. But she did it, and did an excellent job.

Caroline showed me the graduation photo and certificates she got from the courses. One of them is the Award of Good Monitor, which may sounds a bit Mickey Mouse, but being so treasured with affection.

Her Chinese tutor and foreign classmates were regarded as her most unforgettable memories of China. Not only did they study Mandarin and learn to sing Chinese pop songs together, but also held birthday parties monthly, hanged out on weekends, traveled to lovely spots of several provinces in China, and even formed a We-Chat group to keep in touch after they departed.

“We chat once in a while, to get updated and encourage each other on Chinese studying.”


Back to South Africa, being fully occupied by her daily work, Caroline drops some of her Mandarin. However, she promises herself to keep on learning.

“I told myself next year this time I will be speaking fluent Mandarin. I love China, and all these time I’ve been thinking about going back. But I was there to represent my country and bring back what I’ve learnt. And now my country needs me here.”

She plans to improve her language skills step by step, by furthering her Mandarin study in local universities and setting goals to take proficiency tests. She is quite confident about herself and we’ve made a deal, that next time the interview will be done in Mandarin.



(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)
(Editor:Wang Ao,Yao Chun)

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