I remember a HR article about how men and women look for joba. On average, a man will apply for the job, if he feels able to at least 30% of the job specifications. However, a woman will apply, only if she feels able to meet at least 70% of the job specs.
I am more like the average woman. When I look back on my career, I realise that there have been more than a few occasions when I "self-disqualified" myself from a new career role, because I had felt that I lacked some necessary skill or ability.
One of those skills/abilities has been my Chinese language proficiency. I speak Chinese well enough, for everyday purposes. However, I am in the legal profession. My work involves analysing laws and drafting legal contracts. This kind of work calls for higher language standards. You don't merely have to read the small print - you need to be able to write it too. I have that kind of proficiency in the English language, but I've not felt that my command of Chinese was sufficiently strong.
I've just returned from a business trip to Shanghai. This was my first time there. The business and financial district of Shanghai looks extremely modern and developed. The place reeks of consumerism and wealth. You can tell from the number of luxury cars whizzing by on the roads, and also the types of shops that line the streets. Gucci, Cartier, Apple, Louis Vuitton, the Ritz Carlton and the like.
To prepare for this trip, I had brushed up on my Chinese language. This trip was an important one from a work perspective. So I took the trouble to learn various technical terms in Chinese that are relevant to my type of work. For example, credit risk management (信用风险管理）, interest rate swaps （利率互换）, clearing house （清算所）, events of default （违约事件）, regulatory requirements (监管要求） and risk exposure limits (风险敞口险额）.
In the two weeks before my business trip, I had set the target of learning 5 to 10 technical phrases per day. By the time I stepped foot on the plane to Shanghai, I had mastered about 80 such terms and phrases. At my meetings in Shanghai, I was pleased to find that this newly-expanded Chinese vocabulary of mine comfortably got me through.
Now, looking back on my school days, I wonder why Chinese had seemed so difficult back then, whereas the learning seemed relatively quick and painless this time round. Then the answer struck me. But of course. Here I was learning for a specific purpose - I knew why I wanted to learn, and what I had to use the learning for. I needed to know how to say the things that I needed to say.
Whereas in school, Chinese had been difficult because it didn't seem to have any purpose, beyond exams and tests. 默写，in particular, had seemed quite pointless - you basically had to memorise long sentences and regurgitate them for the sake of scoring marks.