Studying a foreign language, especially Chinese, has its challenges and rewards

By Levi Spring, Fresh Take –

Levi ColheadTaking a foreign language class in college is a challenging but rewarding task.

I am now finishing my first semester of Chinese here at MCC and it has been a

surprisingly giving experience. I had presumed that the class would take up some of my time and

that it would keep my mind sharp so that I could excel in other the areas of study I was looking

to focus in on.

Oh, what a fool I was.

For starters, the class has taken up much more of my time than just some, and it hasn’t

been the easy “A” I was looking for. What it is has been, however, is an experience unlike any

other, and one that I would recommend to people who are looking to better themselves and their

cultural intelligence.

The Chinese language is one of power and ancient tradition. Their language has two

parts, the oral Pinyin, which is like their version of English phonics, and then the written

symbols, which amount to a whopping total of 500-plus.

So, while translation may be possible, it is not easy because the language is also set up

with different sentence structures than English or any other Western language. Translating from

English to Chinese, or vice-versa involves a three-step process starting with translating each

character word-for- word, then placing the translation into context, and then finally rearranging

the words and characters into whatever order the sentence structure requires.

This can be a grueling task, especially when trying to make sense of entire paragraphs or

a literature, and it can also be extremely time consuming.

Another piece of this intricate puzzle is that the version of the Chinese language we are

being taught is considered to be simplified and not the traditiona” that has been in existence for

hundreds of years. It could be paralleled to old-English of Shakespeare and the King James

version of the Bible, compared to the slang or modern English we are taught and speak today.

Although people may speak some of the language, they shouldn’t try to show off too

much in public for fear of embarrassing themselves by using a word incorrectly. For example,

the Chinese use the same word to say both mother and cow, and saying this word in the wrong

context might result in calling someone’s mother a cow. That probably wouldn’t go over well.

My friend Matthew, a junior at Grand Valley State University, is in his second semester

of Chinese there. His professor speaks the language from Northern China, still the same language

but the dialect of the region makes some pronunciations different and in some cases uses entirely

different words.

To say the least, we have quite a good time trying to speak to one another in two dialects

of Chinese.

It’s like a Midwesterner trying to communicate in English with a Southerner about

drinking pop or soda. Same drink, but different words for it depending on where people live. As

with Matthew and my conversations, it’s fun, but complicated.

Taking foreign languages does expand the mind. The first time we catch yourselves

reading a foreign text and actually understanding, followed by translating it in our heads, we will

take one step closer to that ever-elusive self-actualization.

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