'Languages are a beautiful way to connect' says 22-year-old Gaidhlig speaking Scot who learned Chinese in lockdown

Grant Swanson started learning Mandarin in February 2020 when lockdown started and became “totally obsessed” spending up to ten hours a day memorising vocabulary.

Grant, 22, lives in Edinburgh and said that when full lockdown hit he didn’t have anything else to do so put all of his energy into learning Chinese as he had always had a “passive interest” in the writing system.

He told the Scotsman: “I listened to Chinese podcasts and music in the shower and in the car to get used to the sounds.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

"I played PC games on Chinese servers so that my teammates would be speaking it and I even watched Chinese kids TV shows.

Grant and his sister, Sally Swanson

He added: “Turns out Peppa Pig is a massive deal in china, so I watched a lot of that.”

After almost one year, Grant has found himself on his way to being fluent saying he knew he was making progress when he started dreaming in Mandarin.

While he has encountered challenges he said that actually found the grammar “ridiculously easy” once he “un-trained” his brain to format English grammar.

He said: “It is a very different language but there is something about the differences that I loved reading and learning about.

Grant Swanson

“I wasn’t staying up till 3am memorising the six different character-pairs to express the word ‘change’ because I was forcing myself to.

“I genuinely really enjoyed it.”

He passed a language exam, HSK 4, just before Christmas after studying for exactly ten months.

On average, it takes someone learning from scratch four years to achieve this.

Grant and his best friend, Jack, who supported him and helped filmed his competition entry for #whyspeakchinese2020

Grant has now entered a competition hosted by Chinosity called ‘#WhySpeakChinese2020’.

He said: “There are five prizes to be given to one contestant from each continent, a pair of return flights to china.

“Since I have never been, I really wanted to give it a shot."

The competition required a 90 second video demonstrating the applicants abilities as well as a story about something funny or interesting that has happened while learning Mandarin.

Grant used a chance encounter that he had with one of the judges in a video game chatroom as his tale.

He added a Scottish twist by filming at Edinburgh Castle and mentioned that while chatting to the judge online, he taught him how to say his name in Gaidhlig.

While he lives in Edinburgh now, having studied robotics at Herriot Watt University, Grant grew up in Inverness and attended a Gaidhlig primary school.

He didn’t enjoy school at the time but he said that he now recognises the value in learning a second language as a child.

An added benefit to being a Gaidhlig speaker is that he can talk to his gran in her first language.

She grew up in Skye and didn’t learn English until she was in school.

He said: “The language itself is lovely and being able to talk to my Nannie, my sister and my mum in Gaidhlig is invaluable.

"I didn’t appreciate how special this was until I grew up a bit.”

Grant has no plans to slow down his learning, he aims to be accepted onto a scholarship programme which will fund Mandarin studies at a Chinese or Taiwanese University.

He added: “China is the capital for robotics in the world and I will be primed to fit into the industry.”

A message from the Editor:Thank you for reading this article. We're more reliant on your support than ever as the shift in consumer habits brought about by coronavirus impacts our advertisers.

If you haven't already, please consider supporting our trusted, fact-checked journalism by taking out a digital subscription.


Want to join the conversation? Please or to comment on this article.