Regrets: I wish I kept up with my second language

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.

radicals
Simplified Chinese Mandarin radicals – Source

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.

Do you regret something you’ve lost?

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  • http://beauty-junkie.net/ Bethany

    I’m sorry your early language experiences weren’t positive. Everything I’ve learnt in TESOL (teaching English as a Second Language) talks about how you can pick up language a lot easier during your first few formative years. And that positivity and encouragement goes so much further than rigid grammar drills and punishments. x.x

    I wanted to continue French in high school, but I dropped it after year ten because I was so afraid I’d fail in the exams. >.>;;

    • http://samthebear.com/blog/ Sam Bear | A Curiosity

      Funny thing you mention French! I actually did French in year 7-8 and I really wanted to keep going but no one else in my grade wanted to study French so the school couldn’t justify putting together a year 9/10 French class =[

      Well such is life I guess! Thanks for dropping by ^_^ My blog has been really quiet lately! Probably because my posting has been scaled back but it’s nice to see you back!

  • Mina

    That’s kind of interesting about some of the radicals, I only moved to Canada when I was in 8th grade (so I still know them pretty well, both in traditional and simplified form) but we never learned the pronunciation of the some of the radical , we were just taught what it’s called (since they were never used by themselves but more as a part of a characters)…

    Anyway, if you really want to learn the language, I don’t think there is never an age that’s too late that you can’t do it anymore. Instead of reading books (which seems too overwhelming when there are so many unfamiliar “symbols” ). I think listening to songs (unfortunately, I have none to recommend) and read the caption or watch drama would be more doable.

  • Shu Ting

    I keep telling people that, to practise listening skill, you need to tune your ears to that language. For example, if by any chance you are to survive in Beijing having 0 understanding of Mandarin, you will surely have picked up some words and then sentences if you are living there for a few months.

    Since we cannot be in Beijing, there is this thing called internet radio (on iPhone it’s this app called Tunein Radio. Free.). Find a radio channel in China, probably in Beijing if you can, and just start listening to it without caring if you will understand or not. Trust me. After awhile, your ears will start recognising some words. And to learn a language, the passion has to be there. Ask ask and ask. Find out about the history of how mandarin became the official language in China and etc.

    Find books or magazines in Chinese (those on fashion and beauty, perhaps?) that you wANT to know what’s written there. 🙂

    For me, I picked up Thai language by living here. I don’t speak Thai with my husband. But everyday I hear people conversing in it. It made me learn very fast. But I never took lessons on reading. Fortunately for me, there’s this things called google translate that reads the phonetic thai alphabets. Sometimes I want to know what a thai sentence means, I just put it in google translate and let it read out (which I understand). :p

  • Laure Villepelet

    Don’t give up. There are many fun ways to study Chinese out there including http://www.chinesecoloured.com/ !

  • Laure Villepelet

    Hi Sam, If mandarin is important to you, don’t give up. There are plenty of fun tools including http://www.chinesecoloured.com/