International Spartan Imparts Worldly Wisdom

International Spartan Imparts Worldly Wisdom
Carrie Becher, Communications Manager

Having lived more of his life in Asia than the United States, 1971 grad Dave Bussmann spoke (via Zoom) with Chinese 4 students in early January, recalling his international experiences and sharing insight on how to become highly proficient in Chinese. With a lifelong passion for learning, Mr. Bussmann reminisced about intense studying, calligraphy tutoring, living abroad, and his immersion in the Chinese (and later Japanese) language.

“I would’ve given my right arm to have the online resources you have available now,” Mr. Bussmann told the class.

Technology, educational tools, and learning apps such as “Pleco” that Christine Tseng introduces in her classes help students like Emmett Concannon ’22 decipher unknown characters and master proper writing techniques. In a language such as Chinese, as Mr. Bussmann stressed, learning stroke order and distinguishing tones matters. Emmett recalled, “One thing he said that really stood out to me was, ‘Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Just speak, but seek correction when possible.’”

With the college credit earned by Mrs. Tseng’s Chinese advanced classes, Emmett and many of his classmates intend to pursue Chinese as a minor or an undergraduate degree in college and took to heart Mr. Bussmann’s advice to prioritize spending time in the country. “Before the COVID-19 pandemic emerged, I was applying to study a summer abroad in Beijing, China. But the pandemic hit and canceled my summer plans. I think that experience would’ve been truly life changing for me.”

Another lesson that resonated with many students was Mr. Bussmann’s emphasis on learning more than just the language. “He said it’s good to learn Chinese culture and history with the language,” recalled Jacob Fahland ’22, “because it can make it easier to learn the language and keep you interested.” When asked how long it took before he became fluent in Chinese, Mr. Bussmann explained it was probably more accurate to think in terms of being “highly proficient” in the language, which he defined as being able to read and understand a newspaper. For him, a few years in the country and a serious commitment to practice brought him to high proficiency…and led to a lifelong business career with more than three decades in Asia.

“I liked the story of him planning to go to Taiwan for three months and it turning into 15 months,” said Michael Murillo ’22.

“It was nice seeing someone getting out of their comfort zone and motivating to see that someone who started Chinese in their sophomore year of college could get so far. He did everything by choice and motivation. He took a risk and tried something different by going to Taiwan.”

As Jacob noted, “Mr. Bussmann started learning Chinese in college without any of the modern tools we have today. If he was able to master Chinese and Japanese after starting in college, then I have a really good chance of being able to master it and use it for my career.”

“The biggest takeaway that I pulled from it,” said Colin Bloeser ’22, “was that it is never too late to try and start learning something. The hard work and practice that I put in will come back and have an even greater impact on my life and what I am able to do with it. I will be able to turn something that may seem like just a class to take and use it to benefit me and become the most successful person that I can be.”

How To Become Proficient in Chinese: Tips From Mr. Bussmann ’71

  • Don’t just study the language, study the history and the cultural aspects
  • Travel abroad and immerse yourself in the culture
  • Practice various types of language including classical Chinese, “telephone Chinese,” different dialects, informal and natural ways of speaking
  • Take advantage of online resources,
  • Watch TV shows and movies with subtitles
  • Read books and newspapers
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes, but seek correction where possible
  • Practice, practice, and practice writing and speaking the language

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