The very first time I became acquainted with Chinese was 10 years ago. I was 19 and travelled to China with my younger sister for an older cousin's wedding, and at the time it was my sister who could speak a very decent Chinese. The good point was that we did not have to stay with my grand-mother all the time (we were the youngest of all cousins being there) and we could head just the 2 of us to visit Beijing. At the time, Beijing was still this big city where there were more bikes than cars, and you had to negotiate crossing the streets with all the cyclers coming up to you and not letting you cross the street in peace.
It was all about visiting the city and enjoying the nights out with cousins and cousins's friends who were at least 10 years older than the 2 of us. Restaurants, bars, nightclubs, massage places, you name it, we did it. No wonder why I completely fell in love with the place, the city, the lifestyle, and especially the impression of being in a city that lived life full speed, compared to "Old Europe".
So when I came back to France and got into my Ecole d'Ingénieur then I started to learn Mandarin. Speaking the language was what had made all the difference for our trip in Beijing, and if I ever wanted to go back there, and maybe work there, then I had to speak the language!
The learning was not that good though, because when I graduated and finally got a job in China - Wuhan this time - then I could hardly make my co-workers or taxi drivers or waiters understand me. It took me 3 months of listening and repeating to be understood and follow a simple conversation with Chinese friends.
So I think it started this way... First the need to communicate directly with people, which quickly improved into being able to hold a full conversation (with a lot of hand talk too, though) with my colleagues and friends. But now, having been back in France for the past 4 years (I know!) and still studying Mandarin on a weekly basis, it is the pleasure of speaking Chinese that is the most important. How to explain? Well, I just love speaking Chinese. The rythm of the language, the tones that make it lively and quite physical, the sounds so different from anything you would find in Europe, a bit like poetry on its own... I can enter my Chinese classroom tired from the day, leave all my worries at the door and enjoy the simple fact of reading and speaking Chinese for the evening. This is why I don't think I'll ever stop learning Chinese.