Knowing Chinese makes you sexy, rich and happy :)

To much work at my new job


Until October I was working as a freelancer. Payment was so-so, but time was plenty. Since beginning of November I’m working at my new job. I knew there would be a lot of work, but now it is much much more than expected. Yes, the payment is a multiple of my freelance job, but now I have hardly time to do anything besides work. After work I just want to relax ;) I didn’t really expect this, but this is the way it is for now.

I’ll keep the blog open of course, but I don’t expect any more articles in the coming months.


Quick internship in China Q&A


I just received an Email from Abdul, an American computer science student. Thanks for your questions, and I think the answers might help anyone, so I’ll answer them on my blog. Questions in bold.

1. I noticed that a great deal of Chinese internships are geared towards recent graduates. What year/grade were you when you had your internship in China?  I’m currently a 2nd year student, and it’s not very uncommon to find an internship in the US at this stage.  But is it the same for China?

At the point of my internship I had 5 semesters of study behind me, but I didn’t have my Bachelor degree at that time. In Germany an internship before graduation is mandatory for any student. My Chinese friend from Shanghai who studied in Shanghai also did an internship before her graduation. This seems to be common practice all around the world and employers know that.

When you look for internships, you should select those that require a programming language you already know. In my case I knew Java and a little bit of php. So I only applied to offers where Java or php was required. My preference was Java, php was more of a backup choice. If they request knowledge of a specific framework, then don’t take that request to serious. If you happen to know the framework in question more power to you! But if you don’t apply anyways. Tell them you know the programming language well, but you need a little bit of training for that specific framework. I got accepted for a internship with a focus on BlackBerry, but I didn’t know anything about the BlackBerry API before.

2. Do you feel that being a foreigner is an advantage or disadvantage with respect to searching for an IT internship?  Surely you don’t need English at a native level to function well in the IT industry, so would they rather hire a Chinese rather than a foreigner?

The question here is, what can you bring to the table a Chinese person can’t? And there are a number of qualities I can think of.

Yes, Chinese people learn English, and many of the young people can speak some degree of English. But the number of people with good English is very low. And those who can speak English well, they mostly study English and have little IT skills. If you program some software that will be sold in the US, then it’s people like you who do the user interface and the user manual. Possibly you will be responsible for talking to customers from outside China by Email and Skype.

Also keep in mind, there a lot of Westerners in China doing their own startup. And they still like to hire Westerners because they want people who think like them.

3. For the internships that you applied to, did you have to apply in Chinese at any point, and write a Chinese resume and what not?  If so, I probably need to work on that. Soon.

Generally you can assume that a job offer written in English is offering a job position where English is used. In fact an IT student from the Western world most probably can’t speak much Chinese and employers know that. In my case I didn’t need Chinese for the job at all, however it was really useful to get everyday communication done efficiently. This was particularly helpful to tell the taxi driver where I want to go, to buy things at the market or when ordering a meal in the restaurant. Also, it helped a lot when talking to Chinese people in the bar at the evening.

4. How qualified were you at the time that you applied? Were you a Microsoft/Google shoe-in with a shining resume who decided to take it to China, and no company in their right mind could deny you? Or were you mostly a normal student who would’ve also had to search for a while for an internship in your own country? And with that in perspective, how many applications did it take for you to land your internship personally?

I think I was a pretty average student. I do not run any startups in my spare time and the average mark was a B, a few A and a few C mixed in. I send all my applications to companies in China. I didn’t even try to find any internship in my home country, because at that time I was learning Chinese for 2 years already and I thought of it as a great opportunity to combine an IT internship with language learning at the weekend.

I took a lot of time selecting the best internship offers. Here is an outline of what I did:

  1. Searched job and internship websites for internships in China, where there was a focus on either Java (first choice) or php (my second choice). Also searched for companies in China offering IT services and then checked their job offer page.
  2. Removed all offers, where there was something fishy. For example the offering company’s website looked like made by the boss’ son. Or no contact person named. Or the contact person uses a hotmail email address.
  3. Removed all offers, where to many additional skills were required.
  4. Removed all offers, where there was no compensation or very little compensation offered. The rationale behind this: If they don’t pay you, you might end up as the person making coffee, because your presence doesn’t cost them anything. I know this is hard today, more applicants than job offers and therefore a sellers market.
  5. After that process 15 offers were left. Sent 10 job applications to the best offers. Got 4 positive replies back. Accepted the best one of those.

I put a lot of effort into the search. I think I spend 3 or 4 days from morning until evening just collecting internship offers and I ended up with 100 or so. After that I removed a lot of them and applied with 10 companies.

Having learned 2 years of Chinese at that point was to some degree helpful, but I met a number of Westerners doing an internship who had as little as 1 semester or no Chinese learning at all under their belt.

5. From what I’ve heard, China is a “here and now” kind of place, but as a foreign student from the US, where we start applying for internships starting from the fall (many deadlines are in November), this can be a huge conflict. Is it possible to get an internship reasonably ahead of time, before I would have to commit to an internship I found here? Or would you have to risk it all and wait until the end of spring/beginning of summer to get an internship, and hope for the best?

I applied in October 2008 and started my work in March 2009. Turn around time on my internship applications was 2 weeks on average. My university insisted on having my application process done at least 1 semester ahead of time, but I just ignored that.

I’m sure you can find an internship in China with a little bit of effort. You can also ask your professors, if they have connections to a university in China. Also consider Taiwan, Hong Kong and Singapore. Go through the usual job websites, but also use google and hunt for companies directly. Get started with keywords like: internship my-preferred-programming-language some-city. I have compiled a list of job websites: Chinese job websites. Despite a little outdated it should be helpful.

Good Luck!


How to find out if Chinese is the right language to learn?


Of those people that visit this site, most already made a decision to learn Chinese. Others still haven’t decided. If you haven’t decided yet and want to find out then keep reading. With this post I want to give you some guidance to help you make an informed decision. I want to help you to find out if you should learn Chinese.

Today I’m not here to convince anyone. In other posts I’m trying to convince people, however this one is intended to make a self-assessment. I ask the questions you need to ask yourself to find out whether Chinese is for you. Let’s go!

Do you have enough motivation for Chinese?

Let me tell you something about Chinese: It requires sooooooooooooo much energy. Really! The more distant a language is to your native language, the more energy will be required to learn it. Attention! I’m not saying that Chinese is more difficult than Spanish, because it is not, but I do say, it requires much more energy, effort, dedication and motivation. Before I started with Chinese I tried Spanish, and failed miserably. Why? Because my interest in Spain was close to zero and I therefore had very little energy to learn it.

You need to find out what is your motivation. Do you like Chinese culture, cuisine, women (or guys)? There must be something that can feed you the energy that you will burn while learning. And if you are into Sauerkraut, then Chinese is not for you.

Don’t repeat my mistakes. More than 5 years ago I felt that one foreign language is not enough for my CV. By try and error I first tried Spanish and then tried Chinese. Don’t do it this way. If you consider Chinese a nice addition to your career, then find out what interests you about China. Do you have a urge to make a holiday in China? Do you want to live over there? What do you know about China and the Chinese? I mean first hand experiences, not things you heard from a friend who heard from a friend. Is that a culture that appeals to you?

If you aren’t sure, then talk to a Chinese persons in school, in university or at your workplace. Preferably talk to several Chinese people. Read something about China and see if you can relate to that.

motivation_to_learn_chinese

It takes 10 years to learn Chinese

The exact duration of your learning may be different, depending on your circumstances and goals. Full time study in China is vastly superior to evening and weekend learning while doing a regular job in your homecountry. Getting to a level where you can order food can be done within months, being able to read the newspaper takes years. Here is what the FSI (Foreign Service Institute) thinks about required learning time for a native speaker of English:

600 class hours
Dutch, French, Spanish,….
900 class hours
Malay, Indonesian, Swahili,…
1100 class hours
Russian, Serbian, Tagalog,…
2200 class hours
Chinese, Japanese, Arabic
Link: List of Language learning time estimates

I want to add, these are just times in class, you have to add homework, repetition and actual speaking, reading and writing practice.

Do you really want to learn at least 10 hours per week for the next 10 years? Once you are done with that, you only need a few hours per week to maintain your Chinese level. Do you have the time to do your daily exercises?

requirements_to_learn_chinese

Choosing Chinese at school as a foreign language

Chinese classes at school are becoming more popular. If you are still going to school and you have to choose a language, you might find yourself in the situation that you can choose between a number of languages, amongst these Chinese, and you don’t know which to choose. All top 20 languages by number of native speakers in this world are definitely a valid choice as a economically valuable language. Maybe Chinese is a top 5 choice, however without enough motivation you can’t learn. So you better choose that language out of the top 20 that you think is the most interesting one for you. I can only ask you to read again what I have said. Do you have the motivation? Are you ready to spend a lot of time every day?

Should I pursue a university degree in Chinese?

No!
Clear and simple. The problem with Chinese as a individual skill is it is not worth much. Chinese only shines in combination with other solid skills like computer science, mechanical engineering, biochemistry, economics and so on. Study a solid skill and then learn Chinese in your spare time.
There is one exception though. You can pursue a degree in Chinese at university if you win the lottery or you have rich parents or a rich spouse.

You should love to learn new words!

The difficulty distribution of Chinese grammar can be described as, easy to get started hard to master. You can easily get started, only later on it gets harder. The good thing is, there is no flexion, so don’t worry about learning different word endings for different cases. Learning vocabulary is particularly important. If a English native speaker wants to learn Spanish, he already knows more than 1000 words from the first day, but with Chinese the number of words you already is extremely low. Just a handful of loanwords, that’s it.

Conclusion

In other posts I like to talk how useful it is to learn Chinese. And the points I make are true on average. But your personal situation and motivation is not the average! When you want to asses your personal chances of success, then these points don’t mean very much. It’s all about your own motivation. Can you bring enough time and dedication to the table? The choice is up to you!


YoLearnChinese.com Reloaded


YoLearnChinese.com is doing a fresh start. I’ve announced it so many times and now the wind of change is here. You might have noticed a few tiny changes that happened during the last few days and there is more to come.

First of all, Yo! Learn Chinese! is going to be more authentic, and therefore I no longer use a pseudonym. Instead I’m writing with my real name. Read more about me on the About Page.

Second, there is a new design, which I introduce today. It’s more of an evolution not a revolution. As part of the new design I reduced the advertisements on YoLearnChinese.com. I don’t think my readers should be interrupted by useless advertisement.

And third, there are still placeholders and coming soon notes here and there during the next few days. I’m going to fill them with content as I have time. Don’t get upset when a page just shows a under construction notice during the next few days.

Enjoy your stay on the new YoLearnChinese.com


China’s TianGong-1 space station


On September 29, 2011 China successfully launched its first space station TianGong-1, written in Chinese as 天宫一号, which means heavenly palace 1. With this article I want to give a overview of the TianGong project and an outlook on what we can expect in the next months.

Technical Details

tiangong1_parts
The completely assembled TianGong-1 space station

Two weeks ago China launched the TianGong-1 space station. However, TianGong-1 is a rather tiny station and only works together with the Shenzhou spacecraft. TianGong-1 can be seen as the science part. The ShenZhou space crafts which arrive later are not only a taxi and resources transporter, they will also bring along the habitation module.

TianGong-1 weighs 8,506 kg and has a pressurized volume of 15 m². I think these two numbers are the most important when estimating the size of a space station. Another important number is the electric output of the solar panels, unfortunately the number hasn’t been published. Compared to other stations, the Chinese is really small. The pressurized volume is the inside volume of the completely empty station. Therefore pressurized volume minus volume of stored objects, experiments and cargo equals space for the astronauts. Here are a few space stations for comparison:

Space Station Launch date mass Pressurized volume Days occupied
Salyut 1 (USSR) 1971-04-19 18,425 Kg 90 m³ 24
Skylab (USA) 1973-05-14 77,088 kg 283 m³ 171
MIR (USSR) 1986-02-19 124,340 kg 350 m³ 4594
ISS (int.) 1998-11-20 417,289 kg 907 m³ 4000
TianGong-1 2011-09-29 8,506 kg 15 m³ 0

TianGong-1 orbits the earth at an inclination of 42.75 degree, which means at its most northern / southern point of each orbit it is above 42.75 degree latitude. Its altitude currently is at 375 km, which is roughly equal to the ISS. Keep in mind, altitude is constantly changing as there is a very tiny amount of atmosphere that slows down orbiting objects. A very rough estimate is, it loses 1 km of altitude per month, but that depends on a lot of factors like sun activity, aerodynamic properties and current altitude of the station and others. Of course there is some fuel aboard to raise the orbit if necessary.

Time line up to launch

There were rumors about a Chinese space station for a long time. In 1986 a space station plan was presented by the Chinese space agency to leading politicians of that time, but the plans were rejected. Instead a comparatively simple space capsule was chosen, which ultimately led to the ShenZhou space capsule.

In 1999 the space station was authorized, which means engineers started making plans on how the station can be built. At the World Expo 2000 in Hanover a first mockup was show, however it was quite different from today’s TianGong-1. That presentation can be counted as a political message to show the world, China is in the space flight business.

The next few years were pretty quiet, regarding the Chinese space station. The first sketches for a space station involved 2 or 3 ShenZhou space crafts making a rendezvous in space to create a space station. In 2007 a true space station module was announced, TianGong-1. The ShenZhou spacecrafts will merely bring supply and crew up to the space station and act as a habitation module. In 2009 at Chinese new year a scale model of TianGong-1 was finally shown to the public:

tiangong_first_public_show_01

During 2011 the media coverage changed, maybe because China wanted to show something to the people. More pictures and videos of TianGong-1 appeared and during the last few months before the start pictures from the construction site were made public every week.

tiangong-construction
TianGong-1 in the construction site mid-2011

And finally they put the space station on top of a Long March 2F/G rocket at the JiuQuan space center. The original launch day was scheduled in late August, however at 17th of August 2011 a unmanned rocket of the type Long March 2C failed during the launch. These two rockets are to some degree related to each other and the engineers wanted to find out what went wrong before launching TianGong-1. Therefore the launch of the space station was postponed to end September or later. Finally the rocket scientists concluded that the faulty part of the unmanned Long March 2C was not used in the Long March 2F/G and TianGong-1 got green light for late September, just before 1. October which is an important day to praise the country.

The launch

The launch was as smooth as it possibly could be. I’ll just ad a picture:
Tiangong-1 launch screen capture of China Central Television
You can also view the video of the launch: TianGong-1 launch video

What next?

Currently TianGong-1 is pretty lonely up there. But that will change soon. For late 2011 it is planned to send ShenZhou 8 in an unmanned configuration to the Chinese space station. There it will test the automated rendezvous and docking system. If this test goes well, ShenZhou 8 will return to earth after a few weeks in space.

shenzhou_parts

In 2012 we can expect two manned flights with the ShenZhou spacecraft. ShenZhou 9 and ShenZhou 10. At this moment it is unclear how many Taikonauts will be aboard. Previously some officials said 3 Taikonauts will be sent to the space station with each flight, however lately others voiced their idea of sending only two each flight to be able to stay in space much longer, because each ShenZhou can only transport limited amounts of supply.

To the left you can see a ShenZhou spacecraft as it was used in previous manned Chinese space missions. For TianGong missions the orbital module will be used as habitation module for visitors to the TianGong-1 space station.


After TianGong-1

China’s plan for the next decade indicates they are serious about building space stations. The rough outline is to launch TianGong-2 in 2013, which will be pretty similar to TianGong-1. For 2015 or 2016 TianGong-3 is planned, which will be bigger. And for the early 2020s an even bigger space station is planned.

China clearly wants to gain knowledge on how to build space stations. Furthermore, a space station creates more economic value than a flight to the moon. Visiting the moon will improve knowledge about the moon. A space station around earth however is best to gain medical knowledge and make biological and material science experiments. And that can be useful for the Chinese industry.


Eutelsat launches on Chinese rocket


I’m preparing the promised article about the Chinese space station, however I want to post this news about an Chinese launch to space with a Western satellite. On October the 7th the satellite Eutelsat W3C was launched by a Chinese Long March 3BE carrier rocket to a geostationary orbit. Eutelsat is a French company and one of the top 3 (by revenue) providers of satellite communications worldwide. The launched satellite Eutelsat W3C is the first launch of a Western satellite on a Chinese carrier rocket since 12 years. It will replace EUROBIRD 16, Eutelsat W2M and SESAT 1.

Kind of surprising. The European Space Agency can’t be happy at all, that Eutelsat favors Chinese vehicles instead of the European government supported Ariane rockets. Cheap production has been moved to China decades ago. Now high tech is also moving east. Tough times ahead for the European space business. What does this mean for European rocket scientists? Here is a picture of the launch from Xichang satellite launch center in southern Sichuan province:

eutelsat_china_launch_2011


Time Required to Learn a Language according to FSI


The FSI (Foreign Service Institute) is a US government organization to educate government employees, especially diplomats and politicians, in foreign languages and cultures. As part of their work, they set up a list of languages and their estimated times until fluency. I think the times listed are to short, but it’s only the time in class. You have to add more time for homework, repetition and actual language practice with native speakers. Feel free to multiply by 2 or 3. The list is aimed at native speakers of English, but I think it is useful as an estimate for anyone. While the list isn’t ideal to estimate required learning times, it is pretty good to find out how much effort one language takes compared to another one.

Without further ado, here is the list of time required to learn a language according to the FSI:

23-24 weeks (575-600 class hours)
Afrikaans
Catalan
Danish
Dutch
French
Galician
Italian
Norwegian
Portuguese
Romanian
Spanish
Swedish

30-36 weeks (750-900 class hours)
German
Indonesian
Javanese
Jumieka
Malay
Swahili

44 weeks (1100 class hours)
Albanian
Amharic
Armenian
Azerbaijani
Belarusian
Bengali
Bosnian
Bulgarian
Burmese
Cebuano
Croatian
Czech
Dzongkha
Estonian
Finnish
Georgian
Greek
Gujarati
Hebrew
Hindi
Hungarian
Icelandic
Ilocano
Irish
Kannada
Kazakh
Kurdish
Kyrgyz
Khmer
Lao
Latvian
Lithuanian
Macedonian
Marathi
Nepali
Pashto
Persian (Dari, Farsi, Tajik)
Polish
Punjabi
Russian
Serbian
Sinhalese
Slovak
Slovenian
Somali
Tagalog
Tamil
Telugu
Tetum
Thai
Turkish
Turkmen
Ukrainian
Urdu
Uzbek
Vietnamese
Xhosa
Zulu

88 weeks (2200 class hours)
Arabic
Cantonese
Japanese
Korean
Mandarin
Mongolian
Taiwanese (Hokkien Min Nan)
Wu

I found the list on Wikibooks, but they don’t give a link to the original. I can only assume that the original is a print document.

According to the list, Chinese takes 88 weeks or 2200 hours. Thats 1.5 years, with 25 class hours per week. Ad in more learning time outside class, then this is like a stressful full time job. You can get some results in such a time frame, but it’s only realistic for people who don’t work and can stay in China.

Tip of the day:
Awesome people prefer to study languages that take at least 2200 class hours.


China successfully launched its first space station TianGong-1



Video of the TianGong-1 launch by China Central Television. That’s really impressive! I’ll do a more complete writeup of the TianGong-1 mission in the next days. In case you want a more complete picture of the Chinese space program, check out my China spaceflight article.


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