Just something different today, I figure everyone is all reviewed out (I know I am!) from the last few weeks of me just getting out all my backlogged reviews so today I’ll just be rambling about one of my biggest regrets in my life so far: not continuing my Chinese language studies. It is a pretty long post, so feel free to skip if you’re not particularly interested! Regular reviews will continue in the next post.
Being born as a Chinese Singaporean, I’ve attended Mandarin classes since Kindergarten and honestly speaking I never enjoyed learning Chinese. English is my first language (being the language that my parents first taught me) and unlike a lot of my class mates I wasn’t raised in a Mandarin speaking family – even my extended family didn’t speak Mandarin (they spoke in a dialect called Hokkien/Fu Jian which, I cannot speak to this day but can fluently understand. It’s a bit bizarre to me and I don’t know why this is the case).
From the start it was a struggle, I wasn’t as fluent in Mandarin as my class mates and my teachers came from the generation before the Baby Boomers so they all had a very strict way they felt Mandarin had to be taught. Punishment was the favoured form of motivation and so for the longest time I had a very negative association with Mandarin. To top it all off, learning a second language was mandatory in Singapore and it had to be the language of your ancestors (in my case, Mandarin because I was Chinese. For example, if you were Indian you had to learn Hindi, never mind you don’t want to do it and would rather learn a different language – that was just how it had to be). You had to continue your language studies up until you finished high school. The only time it became optional was in tertiary education, even so, a satisfactory completion of your second language had to be achieved if you were planning on going onto tertiary study.
I had resigned myself to a fate of unwilling Mandarin study but unexpectedly my family moved to Australia and suddenly I no longer had to study Mandarin for any reason! Despite what I thought, I was still dragged to Sunday language school but all effort dropped to zero – what’s the point when it won’t even matter to my ‘real’ school work? I went through all the motions for years – I moved to Australia when I was 9 and continued going to Sunday language school until I was 14 or 15. At this time I was in year 9 (last year of Middle school/first year of high school for all my US readers) and I could choose subject electives, to this day I have no idea why I decided that doing Mandarin as an actual school elective was a good idea but I did anyway.
I was back where I started from, learning Mandarin in a formal school setting and this time it actually kind of mattered. It was around this time that my attitude to learning Mandarin began to change – I didn’t even notice it at the time but having nicer teachers who used praise and encouragement as motivation instead of punishment started to alter my perception of Mandarin studies.
Finally when I entered senior high school (junior and senior years for those in the US) I selected Mandarin as one of my electives again and doing well was really important as my final scores (from all my chosen subjects) would be calculated into a state wide ranking that would determine which university and which course I could be admitted into. I studied like I had never studied Mandarin before – I read extra texts, I practiced speaking, writing – the whole nine-yards. The best thing was that I had enjoyed myself while studying – it was nothing I had ever experienced, especially not with Mandarin!
After I graduated I felt that studying Mandarin at University was inviting trouble – when you do a language at Uni it is one of the scariest things I think you can do. You are given two lectures a week and one three hour tutorial and that is it for the week – there is no way anyone can really learn a language at an advanced level with that much interaction unless you also did classes outside of your university classes. So my Mandarin became neglected and where once I could string together a half-coherent sentence, now I can’t even conjure the words to my mind. It makes me sad the way you would when you realise you’ve lost a skill that you had worked hard for. I can still manage simple conversation but this is as far as my speaking abilities stretch and my literacy has dropped back to the standard I had when I was studying Mandarin in year 9.
On occasion I pick up a Chinese book and try to make some sense of it but unfortunately it usually ends the same way – I never make it past the first chapter.