When I was accepted into Lakeside School six years ago, I found out I had to take a language; the ones offered were Spanish, French, Mandarin Chinese, and Latin. I wanted to take French initially. Not only did I want to go to Paris in the future, but also because I didn’t get into the middle school I wanted to, which had it. I approached my parents about this; while supportive, they suggested I learn Chinese—it was useful, for starters.
And then I figured, it might be worth the risk, and so I signed up with that registration sheet and sent it off.
In Chinese I, we learned about the tones, character-writing, and simple grammar. In the first few weeks, it was a bit irritating to get the tones right, and I had to get a tutor for a few weeks. Over time, I did better with the language, and wanted to use it not only to get high grades in the classroom, but also for other purposes.
I remember in classes, we would occasionally watch movies—first with English subtitles, and then without them. We would not only discuss about the contents about the film, but also about the ramifications and about real life situations which emerged from it. The latter materialized through college, in which most of the Chinese classes not only focused on the language itself, but political issues within China.
That not only intrigued me, but I also took up creative writing in Chinese since my senior year. At first, it was just as fun simply writing in another language as another form of communication. Recently, however, I’ve learned about the intricacies of words and how they are used. The differences between several words for “focus” and “to use” significantly stand out. It’s very subtle, and so I find myself ignoring them when typing things.
Just last year, a friend in the dorms introduced me to Duolingo, a language learning website in which you can learn several languages through a game-like system featuring small bite-sized lessons, leaderboards, and streaks. She was using it for multiple languages, so I figured I might try it out myself. I started out with French, and expanded to several other languages I wanted to try for a long time.
The approach is different, as Duolingo is a starting point for learning a language. To really become fluent, one must take different initiatives in reading articles, finding people to speak it, or listening to music. I’ve done that to a certain extent with French, but not in the extent of Mandarin where I would have classes every day and professors to show my work to.
With all the difficulties one must entail, I appreciate learning languages and my ambitions to become fluent in them. There’s a bunch of intricacies in them particularly, whether it’s a different alphabet or grammatical structure or sounds. And there are connections to other languages as well, whether they are within the same language family or not.
But it’s not only a resume builder or a curiosity from afar for me.
I want to learn languages, and become fluent in them so that I can understand different people and write about them. I want to connect and help with policy in the future, especially because people cannot understand each other. And I want to know myself as well, each through different lenses.