Sophia Wong

Interviewed by Tina Chan
Monday, June 27, 2011

Tell me about yourself in general.

I am a native New Yorker but my parents emigrated from Canton, China. I attended New York University and earned a B.S. in Economics/Finance with a minor in Sociology. I also studied at Baruch College and graduated with a MBA in Finance. Later, I spent years working in the brokerage industry until I decided to change course. I currently work in a medical office for an OB-GYN.

In my spare time I enjoy watching action and science-fiction movies, exercising at the gym, studying Chinese and outdoor activities. I love all things dark chocolate and Taiwanese Oolong tea. My favorite ethnic food is Middle Eastern, particularly Afghan. I also love all things pink. I aspire to see the Aurora Borealis.

How did you learn about ALESN?

I was referred by a friend.

How long have you been studying the Chinese language?

I started studying Mandarin in March 2010. I enrolled in LaGuardia Community College as a non-accredited student and studied there for two semesters. I was fortunate to have learned about ALESN and joined in September 2010. I have been a dedicated student since.

What initially prompted you to learn the Chinese language?

I was motivated to learn Chinese because I was surrounded by people who spoke the language. Everyone in my family, my relatives, my friends, my neighbors, the stores and the restaurants that I go to all speak Chinese. Many of them speak multiple dialects and can easily flip in and out of different ones. The inability to understand them made me feel inadequate.

What are the top three (3) favorite things that you like about ALESN?

My favorite thing about ALESN is their commitment. The group is run and operated by a team of volunteers who are committed and dedicated. The administrators and teachers are serious about their work and their goal to bring quality language education. The students are another of my favorite. We come from all different types of background and speak many variations of the language; yet together we bring a synergy to the classroom that is dynamic and unique. Also I look forward to the specialty workshops. It is a fun opportunity for us to learn from one another our creative passions, hobbies, and skills.

What have been some of the successes and challenges in learning the Chinese language?

Learning Mandarin has been both rewarding and challenging. I am now able to recognize characters in the Chinese newspaper, menu, store awnings, and movie subtitles. I can also understand and speak simple sentences, which has given me a sense of accomplishment and pride.

Speaking fuller sentences, however, has been a challenge. The syntax of the Chinese language is in reverse order to the English language. I find myself confused listening to longer sentences as my mind is trying to rearrange the sentences back into English.

What classes have had the most successful impact on your Chinese skills?

The Mandarin classes have indirectly improved my Cantonese/Toisan skills. I learned to speak Cantonese/Toisan because my family is Toisan. I speak it without knowing any grammatical/structural rules. I know how to speak it because I just do. Learning Mandarin has made me analyze the structure and syntax of the Chinese language and since Mandarin and Cantonese/Toisan are spoken and written with basically the same grammatical rules I started analyzing my own Cantonese/Toisan language and understanding grammatically elements of my own language that I have always taken for granted.

With a strong interest in Mandarin as noted in attendance, amid a lesser interest in Cantonese, what do you suggest for students to gain more interest in Cantonese?

I would encourage students to take an interest in Cantonese because it is the second most widely spoken Chinese dialect in the world and especially in New York. If one has already mastered the studies of Mandarin, the challenge to learn Cantonese will be lessened as the written language is the same. Many character words in Mandarin sound similar to its Cantonese counterpart.

What ideas do you have for studying techniques and methods to help keep students motivated in classes?

Students would be more motivated if they felt they were making progress. If an instructor requires accountability and responsibility from them they would be more dedicated to produce solid results in homework, exams, projects, etc.

What other suggestions do you have to improve our program?

I think the program should introduce structured lesson plans.