Let me look that up

I’ve been studying languages for a long time (over 20 years in fact, because I’m still learning my native language English) so I’m pretty used to using dictionaries. I’ve had lots of foreign language dictionaries in the past and still do, from school learners dictionaries, to picture dictionaries, pocket dictionaries and native language dictionaries. So I always have a lot of choices when I meet a new word.

As now I’m focusing on Chinese language, I usually turn to Pleco when I don’t know a word. It’s a very useful app, where if you don’t know how to type the Chinese character, you can draw it and the app will recognise it. Pleco is a very useful tool for all Mandarin learners, and it has some pretty good translations of Chinese idioms too.

Lately, my vocabulary book has gone into overdrive and the words are colour-coded according to which text book they came from: comprehensive, listening, oral, reading and writing.

A few of my teachers have seen me looking up vocabulary on Pleco, and have told me that now I’m at an advanced level, I should be looking up unknown vocabulary in Chinese, not in English because the translations aren’t always right and there are some subtle differences with some words: for example, in English referee and judge are two different words, but in Chinese, 裁判 can be used to describe both of these. It’s also true that some things just don’t have a handy translation, try telling me what 辛苦你了 translates as!

Baidu dictionary app
Baidu dictionary app

This is not the first time this has happened. In our final year of university, in our Spanish translation classes, we were not allowed to use Spanish-English dictionaries, and instead were all made to download the RAE dictionary (the Spanish equivalent of the Oxford dictionary). We all reluctantly did this, but secretly would go home and check Wordreference when completing our homework.

Our teachers are right, looking up a word in an English- foreign language dictionary is a bit lazy. We just look at the first or second word and take it as it is, without question, but when we look up a word in a native language dictionary, it gives us a better understanding of the word and using our brain to figure out the meaning is better than just remembering what it seems like in our own language.

There are some difficulties in looking up words in a native language dictionary: synonyms. Imagine you don’t know the word ‘enormous’, you look it up and the definition says ‘huge’, but you realise you don’t know what ‘huge’ means either. You turn to , find huge only to find that the definition is ‘enormous’ – what do you do then? This is a problem I’ve found when looking things up in my 现代汉语词典. I’m trying though, and as I’m learning over 250 new words each week (yes I’m keeping track this semester), as my vocabulary expands, I’ll be able to use the Chinese – Chinese dictionary better than I am doing now.

What do you think about looking up unknown words? Do you prefer to use your own language to understand, or do you use a native speaker’s dictionary?


Moving Back Home

After four years of university, I have moved back into my family home. Like my other friends, I brought back boxes of books, cutlery, duvets, clothes and other bits and bobs that got picked up along the way that are hard to part with (UoN foam finger). Many, if not all, of my friends that have moved back home this summer after university ended have encountered some issues which I want to talk about today.

Freedom and independence

Freedom issues

At uni: Living with friends at uni in halls or a house gives you freedom, that’s without saying. There’s nobody telling you what time you have to be home for and if your housemates ask where you’re going, it’s because they’re interested, not because they are concerned for your safety.

At home: At home things can be more restrictive. Even though we are adults, our parents will always see us as their children and because it’s their house, they can impose curfews, a time to be out of bed in the morning or ask you to wait in all day for the gasman. Siblings may also get involved and sneak up on you, trying to see who you’re texting.


Food issues

At uni: Meal times are when you want and that doesn’t mean I was one to have breakfast at 11am, just that I could schedule meal times around my plans for each day. With evening training sessions, I’d often have half my dinner at 5pm and the other half afterwards at 8.30pm. With supermarkets close by, I could put off deciding what to eat until late afternoon. No idea what to eat? You could experiment with spices, or invite a friend over or even just get takeout from the Chinese. I had a snack drawer in my bedroom and the kitchen was always open.

At home: Meals are usually planned a week in advance, or there’s at least a general overview of what we’ll eat during the week. Portion sizes are different, depending if your parents think you need to lose or gain weight. Meal times are set around a certain time, rather than just ‘waiting until people are hungry’ and we all sit down to eat together. The cupboards and fridge are full with food, which is great but a friend of mine told me how his parents lock the kitchen late evening, so no midnight snacking for him! There are also disagreements about food and cooking – one doesn’t like butter, the other doesn’t want meat, one doesn’t like stir-fry, etc.


TV issues

At uni: You probably watched films and TV series on your laptop, meaning often grainy images and lots of buffering if you’re sharing the wifi with five other people. But you could watch what you wanted when you wanted and without too many interruptions or distractions.

At home: Your living room has a 40″ TV, the picture on this screen is great and you never want to go back to a 13″ again. But your brother/sister/mum all have their set programmes that they (or you!) watch at certain times, without fail. Whether it’s Coronation St at 7.30pm, or Great British Bake Off (Wednesdays at 8pm), they want to watch it live, well at the exact time of broadcasting.


Interesting book!

At uni: Students aren’t known for their cleanliness, but most of us actually are in our own ways and time frames. We may leave washing up until there’s a stack of items, not make our beds at daybreak or not clean the bathroom as often as we should, but eventually we do it. Our rooms may often fall into a state of ‘organised chaos’ but it’s fine.

At home: Organised chaos is never ok. Things have to be cleaned up and put away much quicker than they are at our uni homes. You get told off for not bringing mugs into the kitchen (I got told off for this in my uni house too!) and there are certain places for certain things.

These examples are just a few of the many things that happen when students move back home after spending time away at uni. Despite the few adjustments you or they have to make, moving home is a great way to reconnect with your family.

Her Campus

As my regular readers may be aware of, I am not only a member of the Her Campus Blogger Network but during my past three years at university, I was also a contributor and intern at Her Campus Nottingham. Her Campus is an online global magazine, a community of writers that was founded by Harvard graduates in 2010. In a few years, it has expanded immensely to now have over 270 chapters across 7 countries. The Her Campus homepage is one I regularly visit to read articles about beauty, love, life, career and university – some of the contributors have gone on to work at top end magazines and newspapers like Glamour, Vogue, The Washington Post, showing how successful the work we produce is.

In my first semester as part of the HC Nottingham chapter, I was a copy editor, proof reading and editing my peer’s work before it got published on the website. I received a couple of articles each weekend to go through and I really enjoyed the behind the scenes sneak preview of content before it went live.

In HC Nottingham’s second year, I was on my year abroad, but applied to be a writer. I wrote a mixture of health and travel articles about Spanish food, Chinese food in China as well as other topical pieces such as an interview about Halloween in Mexico. I ended the year by writing the 20 reasons to stay on your year abroad forever which is one of my favourite articles so far.

Her Campus Nottingham Team 2014-15
Her Campus Nottingham Team 2014-15

Then in my fourth and final year of university at Nottingham, I started to write about local Nottingham events and university life. My varsity inspired UoN vs NTU articles here and here did well in the run up to the Varsity series and I also got the chance to watch some great live dance and theatre productions on campus and review them. I did a series of interviews with Campus Celebrities, reviewed the Caves experience in Nottingham and some of the university societies events. This year’s Campus Correspondents, really pushed us for content and there were loads of opportunities to get involved and write.

For our great content, this year HC Nottingham was awarded in the annual Her Campus awards and it is such a pleasure to be part of an award winning team of journalists. We also got upgraded to be a Platinum level chapter, the highest in the three years. I had great fun as an intern at Her Campus as it helped me to feel like an integral part of university, as we reported on campus affairs and interviewed our own classmates on campus. We have a wide audience comprising of university students and staff, as well as alumni and the interns’ friends and families.

So how can YOU get involved with Her Campus? There are several ways, first click on ‘My Campus’ at Her Campus to see if your school or university has a chapter and get in contact with the CCs. If you find your university doesn’t have a chapter, you can become a Campus Correspondent, simply click here for more info on starting your own chapter, to bring HC to your university community. The applications close on August 15 and it’s a great way to gain journalistic experience, see the picture if you need more reasons to join.

Applications for Campus Correspondents now open!
Applications for Campus Correspondents now open!

I highly recommend HC for anyone who loves to read and/or write. The opportunities to get involved in a community are immense and there are plenty of giveaways, events and exciting articles uploaded daily. What are you waiting for?


What the prospectus won’t tell you

I’ve heard time and time again that university are the best years of your life, but I really don’t think that’s true in all cases. Especially not mine. I mean sure, if you’ve been through twelve years of school education, with homework, uniform, parents evenings etc and go straight to uni, you don’t have much to compare it to. But I didn’t do that…

I took a gap yah

Looking back on the past four years, yes they’ve been good. I’ve made a great set of friends, travelled to different places, learnt a lot and developed as a person. But it could have been better and there are little ways that uni has let me down, ways that I’ve only realised now but looking back they’ve been there all along.

  • No support for year out students – Coming back to the UK after a year overseas was tough, I’d been back from Chile for about three weeks before uni started. After spending a year in a small, isolated, religious village where everybody knows your name, the last thing I wanted to do was to go to a huge club with hundreds of people I didn’t know, who would be drinking excessively. There were some activities that didn’t involve drinking, but they were not advertised well at all and as I “hadn’t joined in with Freshers Week”, I felt it was harder to integrate with people in halls.
  • No compulsory sports – in China, students have to take sports classes alongside their degree. I think this is great to promote healthy living amongst students and would give students the opportunity to make new friends without having to necessarily buy gym or sports society membership. If sport was compulsory, I probably would have ended up joining the Triathlon club before I did.
  • Not enough stash – I went to the SU shop today to buy a UoN vest top, but they only had XL sizes left and they said they weren’t going to order any more in. I also had problems when ordering my tri club hoody, and only got it in March, despite wanting one since October.
    I want stash
  • No grad ball – The committee decided to make our graduation ball an exclusive event, so despite 9000 students graduating this year, only 2000 tickets were available, at a pretty expensive price of £70. Consequently, I haven’t been to a single university ball in these past four years.
  • Not so anonymous marking – Departments generally use anonymous marking so no bias is used when marking students work, obviously this doesn’t apply to oral exams. But sometimes it isn’t anonymous, for example you have to state your degree course on your hand in sheet and for one of my modules I was the only Spanish and Chinese student taking it…the module convenor knew this. Then after handing in ‘anonymous’ coursework, the marker says that if I’d taken my piece to him before handing it in, I might have got a better mark – cos that’s really anonymous isn’t it!

Maybe I’m blaming other people too much as it’s easy to blame an organisation or another person when things don’t turn out the way we want them too. Sure, I could have been braver and gone out on Freshers week, joined a sports team in first year, bought my stash earlier, queued from 3am to get a grad ball ticket or gone to see my teacher but the fact remains that I didn’t. I was too shy, too nervous, too scared. And that’s effected my grades, social life and emotions.

But looking back, I don’t regret not going out on Freshers week and I probably wouldn’t have enjoyed a grad ball where 80% of the people I’d want to be there wouldn’t actually be. So do I even have the right to complain?

I just wish things were more clear and transparent from the beginning. For one module there wasn’t even a mark scheme. I’m glad I’m almost done with it!

Learning Mandarin

As I prepare for my last Chinese exam at university, I want to share this post with you, from Learn Mandarin Now, the website collected the views (including mine) of bloggers, teachers and natives to find the most effective ways people have of learning Mandarin.

The top 10 methods

Out of the top ten methods mentioned above, I’ve used half of them and I don’t really have much time to experiment with the other five online learning tools mentioned above before my exam on Wednesday.

If you want to check out the full list of recommendations and other bloggers who are learning Chinese click here, there are categories of the best books, dictionaries, apps and video/news websites to use. I definitely agree that Pleco has been the most useful and I will use the flashcards to test my character knowledge over the next few days, with my favourite Chinese shows 《非诚勿扰》 and 《爸爸去哪儿?》 on in the background!

Sunday Rides

Cycling is the main part of the triathlon, it’s the middle section and the longest – distance and time wise. It’s also my least favourite discipline of the sport. The triathlon club does long rides each Sunday, with three or four different routes, based on ability and during my first semester I did everything I could to get out of them. First, I didn’t have a bike, which was my best excuse because nobody at uni has a tandem. Then when I did get a bike, it was a bit on the large size for me, I couldn’t figure out the gears very well and was totally overwhelmed by the idea of going on a long (over 30km) ride on it. I’d never been on a bike for longer than an hour, never really ridden on roads, couldn’t signal, didn’t have cycling shorts, was mentally unprepared… I had all the excuses and didn’t get out for a club bike ride until February.

I’d just swapped bikes with another girl in the club and felt the size of the new bike (I call him Eddy) was better for me. Riding Eddy to meet the team at the Tennis Centre, he felt hard to ride, but just assumed since I had like 20 gears now, I was in the wrong one. So fiddled a bit and didn’t manage to work it out. I set off with the steady group and was immediately behind them, no matter which way I flicked the switches, I just couldn’t get Eddy in gear and felt so useless. Luckily, the group noticed I’d fallen behind and stopped to wait for me. Emma took one look and told me my chain wasn’t on properly so wouldn’t have got much further. She put it back on and we cycled for another 5 minutes when it became clear that I wouldn’t keep up as I didn’t know my way around the bike and wasn’t confident riding him either.

The ride that week was probably going to be over four hours long as the groups were stepping up training ahead of the Easter Mallorca training camp and poor Emma had the joy of telling me to ‘get on my bike’ as it were and go home. I was pretty devastated, so decided to stick to the static Watt bike training sessions until I improved.

I was sent back

Three months later and I’m glad to say today I did my second consecutive Sunday bike ride in the steady group. Last week, we did about 50km on country roads (and a little stretch on the A52) around Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire, this week we did 60km in about 2.5hrs, the route we did is below (in miles).

Cycle route 17/05/2015
Cycle route 17/05/2015

They’ve been tough, scary in places and physically challenging, but getting home, looking at the map and seeing how far I actually went is so rewarding. As always, with the UoN triathlon club, despite it being an individual sport, there is such a great team spirit. When cycling, we often pair up and cycle together, as girls do, we chat about uni, sport, summer, guys, chafing issues, the weather etc. As there are probably 100 more hazards on the road for a cyclist than a motorist, we work together to make sure things run smoothly – we shout out to each other directions, point out potholes, warn each other when there are cars or horses and if someone drops behind.

Now I’m regretting not going out on the rides before as it’s a much better way to improve my strength, stamina and bike confidence than watt bike sessions. Hopefully the miles I’ve racked up in the last couple of weeks will help me in my next two triathlons over the next two weekends. Watch this space to find out!

The 3 Scariest Things at the BUCS Sprint Triathlon

Yesterday, with the UoN Triathlon Club, I went to Calne to compete in the annual BUCS Sprint Triathlon. It consisted of a 750m swim, 25km cycle and a 5km run. The weather forecast wasn’t looking the best and some people had to endure a thunderstorm whilst out on their race. Luckily, I went in the morning and got a bit of sun for my wave. Triathlons can be scary, especially for me as a beginner to the sport. Here is a countdown of the scariest things I encountered yesterday:

3. Scarecrows

Actually pretty scary

The cycle route was through quiet roads in the Wiltshire countryside and I’ve actually never seen so many scarecrows in my life as I did yesterday. What surprised me was that most of them weren’t even in the fields, they were stood up against people’s front door, or casually chilling at the gate when you cycled around the corner. They gave me a bit of a fright.

2. Flies in the eyes

I found this picture quite funny

Because the weather was quite cloudy for my wave, I decided not to wear sunglasses. Bad decision. As I was cycling, I could smell the flowers and the cows, it seems the flies did too and were all out for a Sunday fly. About 3 flies flew directly into my eye (always the left one) and several more full on smacked me in the face. Next time, I’ll wear sunglasses so I don’t have to worry about conjunctivitis.

1. Jigsaw

Scariest thing to see ever

The previous two are things which may be common at triathlons in general, but this one is more abstract. When I left the transition area and got on my bike, I cycled through a housing estate. In one of the cars, on the left hand side, placed on the passenger’s headrest was the face of Jigsaw from the Saw series of horror movies. These films gave me nightmares as a teenager and even thinking about it now gives me chills. So to see the face of the evil creature, come to haunt me at the beginning of my cycle really wasn’t a good omen. I’m surprised I stayed on my bike as it really scared me and I had visions that he too would come out on his little tricycle to take me away and give me some cruel punishment for immense procrastination or something.

Issues that matter

At university, there always seems to be somebody or entity complaining about something, whether it’s student activist societies, student led forums for discussing teaching issues or just individuals wanting to get more for their money or a higher coursework mark. These issues all seem very important when you’re in university and I myself have fallen into the university bubble that enveloped and consumed me when I received a low mark for a piece of coursework, bringing down my average dramatically and increasing the pressure for me to do well in other assessments. However, these past few weeks, I’ve been preparing for my Spanish oral exam which will be next week, and the task is to prepare presentations on five topics. Today I’m going to write about my Spanish oral topics and why these issues matter so much more in the grand scheme of things, over exam stress.

Poverty in the world

I’ve chosen to speak about food poverty in the UK as the amount of people relying on food banks in the UK is dramatically rising. My presentation is based on a paper produced by Oxfam, Church Action on Poverty and The Trussell Trust, called Below the breadline: The relentless rise of food poverty in Britain. It gives testimonies of those living in food poverty (when people don’t have the ability to afford food for a healthy diet) and reports figures about unequal wealth distribution in the UK and food banks. It’s a really interesting report that highlights an issue many of us never consider as being a problem. Although some of us donate to food banks, the food accepted by charities is tinned, long-lasting foods such as pasta, tuna, rice and cereals. Fresh fruit and vegetables are never accepted and as many fruits and veg are imported from other countries, people living in food poverty can’t afford it and their diet is affected by this.


Globalization is the exchange of products, ideas or cultural aspects between countries and I have decided to look at the new trend in China for European finishing schools. Based on an article Western manners: The latest Chinese status symbol, in this presentation I look at how a Chinese woman, who attended an etiquette school in Switzerland has opened one in Beijing, offering courses on peeling fruit with cutlery and posing with elegance. What shocks me most about this isn’t the ridiculous prices of the school and the founder’s ambition for it to be accessible to all Chinese people, it’s the fact that Chinese people are prepared to study the customs and etiquette which derived in Switzerland. Funny enough, in Switzerland, due to the rise in feminism and changing views on gender roles, these schools are actually shutting down because they’re deemed old-fashioned.

Chinese people studying Western manners


Keeping to the China theme, I have been reading about Chinese death-row prisoners and executions. More specifically, China has a number of specially built Mobile ‘death vans’ which they use to execute prisoners in, via lethal injection. After this process is finished, doctors extract the organs from the prisoners (without permission) and sell them through hospitals. I have read other information about organ harvesting in China which is chilling, to say the least.

Studying these, amongst other, topics over the past few weeks has been eye-opening, shocking and distressing in some cases where I read more than I should have. However, the task has helped me to prioritise the issues in my life and appreciate the life I lead. I’m all for student activism, as many campaigns run do get listened to, but it puts complaining about a grade and worrying about an exam into perspective as I now know that hundreds of thousands on children in my country are going hungry each day and some corrupt Chinese officers are unjustly sentencing people to death as a means to obtain organs, which are of high demand in a country where there is no mentality or history of voluntary organ donation.