Language Barriers

English: "Chinese grammar" in tradit...

English: “Chinese grammar” in traditional and simplified Chinese (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

To finish out my last year of college, I’ve decided to take on a new language. Namely, Chinese. I decided to do this for three reasons:

A) To see the shocked and confused faces from my friends and family

B) It may prove useful if I’m ever involved in foreign relations

C) The language itself has always fascinated me since I was little, and honestly it’s never too late to start trying.

For anyone else that’s hoping to a learn a new and potentially difficult language, here are a few tips:

1) Define your language goals

First off, why do you want to learn this language? Because it’ll help in your career? It’s fun? You plan to study abroad and meet your significant other there? Regardless, figure out what you want from the language. Let it motivate you. Besides my other reasons specified above, it was reading this TIME article on language and the brain:

http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,2147707,00.html

And I began to think, “how amazing would it be if could fully converse and play around with a language instead of the minor knowledge I had accumulated in high school? Why not start now?” Additionally, what do you mean by learning a language? Understanding the complexities of Chinese grammar, or being able to hold a business conversation in formal, and fluent French? Start high, and then find out what steps you need to reach that goal.

2) Join groups

There are great sites where you can converse with language specialists over Skype, or find specific groups on http://www.meetup.com. If you’re still in college, go to the language lab or see if any special interest groups are on your campus. My college for example has houses called Living Learning Communities, some which are tailored to learning certain languages. Look for places that will cater to you needs, and you can decide on what you need to do.

3) The internet is magic

If you’re like me, you probably feel the need to be over prepared for everything you’re doing. So if you’re learning a language that you have little experience with, move onto another platform and look for sites that can help with language learning. A few that I found for Chinese are http://www.yellowbridge.com/ and http://www.chinese-tools.com/ which have been very helpful for me learning the basics of the Pinyin system. I’m still just learning how to combine initials, finals, and tones into syllables. It’s like middle and elementary school grammar classes all over again!

4) It’s not an easy journey

Part of the reason it took me so long to finally take on Chinese is because I knew that I wasn’t prepared. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind, and I really wanted to finish all of my major courses first. I thought it would be stressful and I am already WAY too friendly with stress. But learning how to think and communicate in a different language is something that I’ve always loved, and I’ve pushed it back for far too long. Even if the journey is hard, it’s ultimately worth it. For everyone else out there hoping to learn a language, I wish you all the best!

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