Jennifer Zhao

 Freelance Journalist living in Melbourne, Australia


Introduce yourself: Tell us your background, where you live, and what you do?

My name is Jennifer. I am Chinese but I have been living in Melbourne, Australia for more than 10 years.  Melbourne is a really multi-cultural city so I feel really lucky that I can always run into people from different parts of the world. If you speak their language, strike up a conversation with them and you easily make a new friend who can give you a fresh perspective to see the world.

I am a freelance journalist and language teacher. I have always been interested in languages. I think language is the best tool to really delve into different cultures and to know the subtle cultural nuances that only the local language can properly express.

My native language is Mandarin Chinese. I also speak English (C2), Cantonese (B2), Japanese (B2), French (B1), Spanish (B1) and German (A1).


What language are you learning and why are you learning it?

I am learning French and Spanish with Rype. I took some Spanish electives in college and wanted to continue with my Spanish studies after I graduated. Also travelling to France has motivated me to learn French as well.

Besides travelling reasons, I generally find knowing languages can help to get to know the people and the countries where the language is spoken on a whole new level. And I totally think monolingual people are missing out!


Share your first A-HA moment with us: The moment when you felt that your language skills advanced to the next level. How long did it take to achieve this result?

My aha moment was when I realised that I could hold a casual chat speaking only French or Spanish with my tutors for at least 30 minutes. It was such a rewarding feeling and I felt so much more confident and comfortable with the language ever since. Obviously there are many things in the language that are still foggy to me at the moment, but I definitely start to feel that language learning at my current level has become such an enjoyment, rather than a study chore like when I just started as a beginner.

I have studies Spanish in college for three semesters, with my previous knowledge of Spanish and the fact that both Spanish and French are Romance Languages, picking up French was fairly easy for me. So I would say it took me about 1 year for Spanish and only 3 months for French to get to where I am now, speaking Spanish and French both at B1 level.


Tell us about your learning schedule. What time of the day do you take your lessons and how much time do you spend learning per week?  How do you find time to take lessons with your busy schedule?

I try to have at least 30-60 minutes sit-down study time everyday, be it online lesson with my Rype coaches or simple self study session with some “teach yourself” books or some comprehensible audios.

I am a morning person so I get up around 6am. After some yoga and breakfast, 7-8am is my daily dedicated language learning hour. I normally book my lessons one week advance so I make sure that I can get my preferred morning hours. I think if you have some hobbies that you want to start or get back into, the early hours right after you get up is the best time to pursue them.

Throughout my day, I always have my flashcards with me and I am constantly listening to interesting podcasts in my target languages too. The key to learn languages somewhat effortlessly is to incorporate your learning into your everyday life and do it consistently by taking advantages of all the idle time we have. No matter how busy we are, if we look harder, I am sure we all can find some small chunk of time that can be made more productive. 5 minutes here and 10 minutes there can really start to add up and remember every little bit counts in your language learning endeavour.


Who was your teacher(s) at Rype, and why did you select him/her as your teacher?

My first French teacher on Rype was David Majzoub. He is very good at explaining the tricky French grammar and introducing new vocabulary in the most organic way. I am confident to say that I learnt more with him in just 3 months than what I have learnt in 3 semesters in college. Thanks to his super efficient lessons, I have established the essential language core in French which helped me significantly later on and I feel like once I have this foundation in place, I can start to use and enjoy the language much more without having to worry about the basic sentence structures. (though I still make tons of mistakes in tense and verb conjugation, but we learn so much from our mistakes, don’t we?)

Though I had a bit of rough start finding a Spanish teacher who fits my learning style when I first signed up for RYPE. After trying out several teachers from Columbia and Mexico, I am glad I found Iris Camacaro Gonzáles from Madrid, Spain. She is a very professional and patient teacher who varies up her teaching methods to make the lessons always enjoyable and stimulating. What I have taken away from learning with Iris is that, if you current methods don’t work, try change things up a little bit, variety in material and a good combination of various exercises can spark new interests in the language and make things click and stick with you more. With Iris, we sometimes do serious fill in the blank type of exercises focusing on tenses and conjugation, sometimes we read a news articles together and other times we simply chat and see where the conversation takes us.


Could you share some top language tools and resources you use to learn a language?

I use the Anki app to make tons of flashcards which I can quickly go through throughout my day while I am commuting to work. Anki automatically calculates the frequency that you need to review those words based on SRS (Spaced Repetition System) which works wonders to reinforce our memory.

I also use LingQ founded by the Canadian polyglot Steve Kauffman. LingQ is famous for its speech-to-text user interface that gathers various resources like news articles and podcasts for us to learn from the most authentic material.


What are your top recommendations and tips for new language learners?

1.  Stay motivated and be consistent. Even if you can only do 5-10 minutes a day, that would be more beneficial than a 2 hour weekend session.

2. Listen, listen and listen. I am a big advocate of input based learning. I think listening to understandable material is the most powerful and easiest way to soak in the most natural and authentic language.

3. Use the down-time in your day. You will be amazed at how many flashcards you can flip through whilst you are waiting for bus or lining up to buy a cup of coffee.

4. Speak to native speakers. To speak a foreign language, we need to train the muscle in our mouth to get used to the movements of pronouncing words in the target language just like how you train your bicep or your core muscles in the gym.

5. Vocabulary is essential. In order to engage in meaningful conversation, only knowing the words for asking direction or ordering a meal is not going to cut it. So I highly recommend my fellow language learners to immerse in engaging content through lots of reading and listening.


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