As some of you know, I have been learning a few languages for some time now and I can honestly say, it is never too late to start. At school I was never that interested and I already didn’t feel like I fitted in, never mind trying to speak another language with my classmates. I guess I never really appreciated or knew how useful it could be until the last few years. I don’t know about you, but growing up I hated it when my Mum spoke to me in Cantonese in public because she doesn’t speak English, and everyone stared at us and laugh. I felt embarrassed. I hated being different from everyone and getting teased about it. Looking back, I wish I cared less about what others thought of me then, and took more of an interest and tried harder to learn all the languages we were taught at school.
Luckily to this day, I am able to speak Cantonese (thanks to my parents and friends), understand Hakka (another Chinese dialect), Mandarin and a little bit of Italian. I remember always wanting to learn Mandarin, but I was too afraid I wasn’t “clever enough” and people kept saying “are you sure? It’s really difficult though…” So I put it off for a while. With China being more and more powerful and mandarin being the world’s most spoken language – it’s fair to say, knowing a few Chinese words is going to be useful. So, in 2008 I plucked up the courage to enrol onto a beginners Mandarin course and since then I have never looked back and have even got carried away on signing onto more courses. The only regret is, I wish I did it sooner! Because I’ve met some amazing people who are now my friends-for-life (if you’re reading this you know who you are!) And they have become the most kindest, supportive and most amazing friends I could ever ask for.
I have taken Mandarin proficiency exams, known as HSK’s, which I think are really useful if you’re a non-native speaker and you wish to work in China or Hong Kong, as it gives employers an idea of what level you are at. Anyone who has just started a Mandarin course, a tip is to watch Taiwanese/Chinese shows that you like as I find they improve your listening and speaking, and are a good way to pick up new modern phrases and vocabulary. Another tip is music – Find your favourite Chinese singer. Alexander Leehom Wang 王力宏 – a famous American Chinese singer, is one of my favourite (thanks to my fiancé playing his songs to me when we first started dating) and his songs are good in helping to improve translation skills. If you can get hold of any Chinese articles, magazines or newspapers they are good in helping your reading, as well as helping you keeping up to date with current affairs and celeb gossip(!).
Chinese characters are so different from European languages as Chinese stems from ancient pictographs and uses pinyin. Each character represents a whole word, whereas European languages such as English or Italian use the alphabet to form different words. Until a year ago I couldn’t read any Chinese so I had to learn (still am) by myself and by doing repetitive lines of each word. I find it frustrating at times as there is the Simplified and Traditional character writing and I admit in the past I have felt like giving up, especially when it’s close to exam time. The best thing out of all this is that I am able to speak with my Mum better as we use WeChat (similar to Whatsapp) to send each other Chinese texts and emojis. I think it has brought us closer 🙂
I’ve just enrolled on another 10 week course on beginners II Italian and if I’m honest, it’s nice to have a mini break from trying to read Chinese characters all the time. This week in class we listened to David Bowie and learnt that he sang his Space Oddity song in Italian (?!) Am I the only person in the world who didn’t know this existed?? Anyway, I found out whilst translating the lyrics for homework, the song isn’t about an astronaut but a boy and a girl. See, I learn something new everyday 🙂
I hope this blog inspires you in some way or help you embrace your multi/bilingual skills even more as you never know where it can take you. I’m hoping mine will take me all over the world. So… Keep Calm and Learn Languages 🙂
Ci vediamo presto, zai jian! (再见）
Lots of Love Heather xxx