Global Education

South speaks: Chinese

By Alexandra Fen
Published: October 2010

For many years, my mother pressured me to take a Chinese language course at South. I’ve taken French since middle school and I wasn’t particularly interested in adding yet another language to my already demanding course load.
Moreover, I really didn’t want to satisfy my mother’s pleas.
Then, summer of my sophomore year I went to China. Conversing with my relatives who didn’t speak Chinese was a challenge. I realized more than ever that verbally, I lacked fluency, and I had a weak understanding of colloquial expressions. I didn’t understand what was said on television, and I couldn’t even read road signs.
I wasn’t able to participate in family-wide discussions or hold a meaningful conversation with either of my grandparents. To say the least, I didn’t like the idea of being alienated from my mother’s entire side of the family by this language barrier. I decided that I’d take Chinese my junior and senior year to improve my communication abilities.
Over the course of my junior year, my listening and speaking abilities improved dramatically. I was able to join my mother in bi-monthly long-distance phone calls to my grandparents, following discussions about current events and familial disputes. More importantly, when I went to China the following summer, I could communicate easily with all my relatives, allowing them to really get to know me. My relationship with them became something more than one based solely on the fact that we were related.
In retrospect, I realize that I also picked up on certain cultural nuances during trips because of my improved understanding of the language.
With this knowledge, I now speak to my Chinese relatives differently than I do to my American ones. This isn’t to say that I’m more respectful to some over others. It does, however, allow my relatives to communicate with me more comfortably.
My initial reason for taking Chinese halfway into high school was to improve my communication skills. My experience, however, has given way to many more reasons for continuing education in the Chinese language.

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