Melody of life

Updated: 2011-07-08 10:47

By Zhang Xi (China Daily European Weekly)

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Melody of life
Chinese television celebrity Julien Gaudfroy is one of the most recognizable foreign faces in China. Zhang Wei / China Daily 

A Frenchman recalls how a meeting with a chinese group in paris changed his life

When circumstance put an end to Julien Gaudfroy's first great love, the former musician discovered his passion for the Chinese language. Before carving a career as a media personality in Beijing, the Frenchman was a professional cellist, studying at the prestigious Paris Conservatory (CNSMDP) with top classical players and conductors.

The gifted musician was forced to stop playing due to serious injuries eight years ago and decided to focus on the "challenge" of learning a new language.

With the same dedication that saw him rise to the top of European musical circles, Gaudfroy would not rest until he attained the level of a native speaker.

Those impeccable language skills, coupled with a good dose of charisma and keen sense of humor, has made Gaudfroy one of the most popular foreign entertainers on Chinese television.

Gaudfroy began studying Chinese in 1998 while still in France, after he met a group of Chinese musicians.

"By chance I was invited to dine with a group of visiting Taiwanese musicians in Paris. As the only Frenchman, I could not understand their conversations at all. So the next day, I bought a couple of Chinese language learning materials to study by myself," he says.

He soon creating within his Paris apartment an "almost 100 percent Chinese environment" and with the assistance of his Chinese girlfriend at that time, studied at home for hours and engaged in conversation with any Chinese person he happened upon

After months of self-study, Gaudfroy came to Shanghai in 1999. But rather than attending the language class, he chose to wander around the streets to fully experience the ancient country.

"I did not have a specific purpose at that time. I simply wanted to know what the country was like," he says. "But one year later, my financial condition did not allow me to continue my stay so that I went back to Paris, determined to devote myself into Chinese study."

The 32-year-old attributes his superb Chinese language ability to true grit and determination.

"Your natural talent for language only accounts for a small part of your achievement. All the rest is your persistence," he says. He admits that his natural listening gift has helped learning the music-like Mandarin language. "When I was little, I could quickly figure out the tiny differences among similar sounds. That helped me in my studies of cello and languages," he says.

Unlike most college language learners, who are taught the meaning of a word before being able to say it, Gaudfroy learnt Chinese in the reverse way.

"My philosophy is that language is all about imitation," he says. "We should learn to say and hear the words first, then understand the meaning later. Sometimes the more you think, the less you learn.

"If I teach you a word and tell you its meaning, say, 'computer', the only thing you'll remember after a few days is that I taught you a word, which means 'computer'. What was the word? Forgot it."

Gaudfroy says his French background might have something to do with his different learning path.

No matter the nationality of his friends, he encourages them all to develop their own innovative ideas rather than be just followers.

"That is how I describe my French fellows to Chinese," he says. "French people do not allow themselves to be mediocre.

"Even the gift sent to your girlfriend must be different from others.

"The French are thoughtful, decisive and outspoken, although sometimes they may not consider the results.

"They are good at finding the social defects and then speak out about their dissatisfaction. They often demonstrate on the street to fight for their right."

However, he says, when people only concentrate on the problems, they lose sight of the big picture.

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