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Why I am learning Chinese



18 March 2014

Earlier this month I welcomed more than 51,000 students to the University of Sydney. For some of them it is the first time they will be studying at University and hopefully it will be the start of a degree that will lead them towards a career they enjoy.

But I also hope that their connection with the University does not end there.

Ideally, the students I welcomed will continue to dip in and out of the University learning environment for the rest of their lives. Through our postgraduate courses, short courses at the Centre for Continuing Education or through our business dialogue programs, regardless of how they engage with us, learning should continue to be rekindled.

I have kept my own curiosity and desire for learning alive by immersing myself in the Chinese language. I first became attracted to the language because someone once challenged me to learn it on the basis that it was too difficult: I have been trying ever since to prove them wrong!

There are three things in particular that drew me to Chinese. First, there is much about the language that reminds me of poetry, my preferred literary form. It is economical in its structure and syntax. Chinese expresses ideas far more concisely than English, and with an elegant simplicity. That desire for simplicity turns my very English pattern of thought, with its multiple dependent clauses, on its head, and challenges me to re-express ideas with less complexity.

Second, like the concision of poetry, the economical character of the Chinese sentence leads to ambiguities that can be both amusing and revealing. Word play is built into the character of the language in a way that makes it almost a national sport. It is a language built for the teasing epigraph.

For me, a great example of this is the infamous poem'施氏食狮史'. It both epitomises the beauty of the Chinese language and the incredible challenge it offers. That is why I choose to take施 as my Chinese surname.

Third, I love the beauty of the Chinese script. There is a history behind every character. Reading and writing Chinese makes me feel in touch with not only a whole literary world, but also the story of a whole civilization.


As the saying goes 学习是永远跟随主人的宝物 (Learning is a treasure that will follow its owner everywhere), the insight I have gained about China will prove to be invaluable as Vice-Chancellor of the University of Sydney. I am better able to communicate with my Chinese counterparts and I have a greater contextual understanding to really enjoy travelling around the fascinating country.

I hope the students I welcomedare as lucky as I have been to get the opportunity to pursue lifelong learning.

这个月我欢迎了五万一千多名学生到悉尼大学,而他们中的部分学生是第一次到悉尼大学学习。我希望大学的学位会帮助他们找到喜欢的职业,我更希望他们与大学的联系不会因为学习的结束而终止。

我希望大学的学习氛围和熏陶能终身伴随这些新同学们。他们可以继续进修研究生的课程,参加继续教育中心的短期课程,或者参与我们的商业对话项目,不管以何种方式,都应保持对追求知识的热情。

我对中文有着强烈的好奇心并一直坚持学习。最初我听说中文非常难学,所以我就一直不断努力学习来证明这种说法是错误的。

中文有三点特别之处非常吸引我。首先,中文结构和句法的简洁总让我想起诗歌,我最喜欢的文学体裁。其优雅而简练的语言比英文更能准确表达含义。这种简洁的表达方式改变着我的英语思维方式,让我敢于尝试挑战自己用更简明的语言表达复杂的想法。

其次,如同精美的诗歌,中文用词很精炼,且含义深远、诙谐又给人启迪。中文的文字游戏在全国各地都很流行,其调侃和戏谑是中文又一个特色。

"施氏食狮史"这篇设限文章就是一个很好的范例。该文充分体现了中文的美丽和深奥,这也是我选择"施"作为我的中文姓氏的原因。

再次,我喜欢美丽的汉字,因为每个汉字背后都有一个故事。通过阅读和书写中文,我不仅接触到文字的世界,我更能感受到文字背后传承的中华历史与文化。

常言道"学习是永远跟随主人的宝物"。学习中文获得的感悟对我担任悉尼大学校长很有帮助,长我可以更好地与中国合作伙伴进行交流。而对中国的进一步了解也让我的每一次中国之旅变得更加有深度与意义。

我希望在这个月新来的同学们也能象我一样幸运,能够拥有终身学习的机会。