Language is a bridge that connects people. April 20 marks United Nations Chinese Language Day. On this day, people around the world celebrate the Chinese language. TEENS has invited three Chinese learners to share stories of their studies!
Mike Fuksman, US: Learning Chinese brings me joy
When I first arrived in China, I didn’t speak any Chinese at all. I could only say “hello” and “thank you”. But since then, I’ve gotten a pretty decent grasp of the language.
One thing that I really appreciate about Chinese is that it is usually quite direct and literal. When you break each word down into its individual characters, they make sense together. “Elevator” is dianti – translated character by character, it means “electric stairs”. It’s pretty straightforward.
Then again, there are plenty of odd words, such as dongxi, which means “things”. If you translate each part individually, it means “east west”. There are some interesting theories about how dongxi came to mean “things”. One theory goes that all marketplaces in ancient Chinese cities were set up along a single road that ran from east to west. So when you would say qu mai dongxi, you’d be saying, “I’m going to buy things.”
Learning to read the characters themselves has been a challenge, but it has also been fun and made my life more convenient.
Alex Tani, UK: Learning Chinese can be enjoyable
At the age of 13, I started taking Mandarin classes at school. It was a subject that could make the classroom deadly silent because of how difficult it was to learn. But when I arrived to China in 2021, I found that learning the language could be enjoyable.
After I moved to Beijing, I lived with locals. As a language lover, I would try to chat with them in Chinese, sharing details about our daily lives. Sometimes we would also go to KTV together.
When I stepped into the KTV room for the first time, the vibe was completely different from that of a classroom. But this was where the learning would take place. With every note sung, the characters began to make sense. Connecting with others made the process of learning less daunting. The music and language learning flowed with ease. As I sang with native Chinese speakers, it finally began to click. This was an environment where I could immerse myself in the Chinese language and culture while still expressing myself.
Living in China has added a much-needed element of necessity to language learning while making the experience fun.
Jennifer Holstein, US: Learning Chinese changed my life path
Since I started learning Chinese at the age of 5, the language has been part of my life. At the beginning, it was challenging. After six years of learning, I could still barely put a sentence together. But I never gave up. To improve my Mandarin, I moved to Beijing in high school for an intensive language program.
The school day was long and hard. Each morning, the sound of our wake-up call would ring at 6:30 sharp. Class went until 5:15 pm each day, and then of course we had another three hours of monitored night study in the evening. Each day we attended listening, speaking, reading and writing classes. Even gym and music classes were in Mandarin. For a 16-year-old American girl, this was a shock to the system. But I learned Mandarin quite well.
It took a lifetime to learn, but once I had a good grasp of the language, opportunities started presenting themselves everywhere. Everyone wanted me to work for them. At that moment, I knew my effort was worth it.