My Love for Chinese Language

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My favourite character in the Chinese language is “聽” (tīng), the word for “listen”. The “耳” (êr) on the left is the character for “ear”, which, of course, is used to listen to others, whilst the “王” (wáng) below represents “king”, implying that respect should be conferred to the person you’re listening to. The flipped, horizontal “目” (mù) on the right represents the eyes and focus, illustrating that full attention must be paid to the person speaking, and “心” (xīn) below refers to “heart”, encapsulating the idea that listening to someone requires both your ears and your heart. This character is the epitome of the beauty and complexity of the Chinese language, and never fails to leave me in awe.

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For as long as I can remember, Mandarin Chinese had always been a part of my life, but I wasn’t always fond of it. Sure, the accumulation of grammar and vocabulary over 10 years as part of the school curriculum equipped me with the ability to hold conversations at considerably advanced levels, but that was it. The language, though familiar to the tongue and eyes, was foreign to the heart. All that changed when I accompanied my mother to see her favourite singer, JJ Lin, live in concert. As the Taiwanese singer crooned tune after tune, I couldn’t help but to pick up on tones and sonorities that were exceptionally pleasing to the ears. The words, accompanied by a beautiful melody, created a delightful symphony of sounds which instantly altered my perception of the language. The visceral experience at the concert instantly made me a convert, as I began incorporating Chinese pop music into my playlists. One thing led to another, and soon enough, I began to internalise the unique nuances and patterns of the language that I had never noticed before. I found myself lamenting both the simplicity of the English alphabet compared to the visual artistry as seen in Chinese characters, as well as the difficulty of English grammar in contrast to Chinese (lack of conjugations, tenses, plurals…).

My love for the Chinese language had blossomed. I began to speak Chinese again with my family, though initially rusty from lack of use, read Chinese novels in my spare time, I had even picked up translating my favourite Chinese shows into English such that they could reach a wider audience. Needless to say, my heart warmed to Chinese culture simultaneously, enabling me to view the world through a more diverse lens, as well as broadening my perspectives and shaping my outlook on life. I took pride in my cultural roots and heritage. It wasn’t until recently that I came to realise the magnitude that Chinese, and the relearning of the language, had on my life. Beyond my personal appreciation of the culture and language, I began to detect subtle changes in the way I interacted with others.

The value of bilingualism truly transcended my expectations, presenting a range of opportunities and experiences that I would not have had otherwise. To me, language was more than just a means of communication, it was a way to connect with others on a more intimate level. I was able to touch base with my primarily Chinese-speaking grandparents, who often told me stories about their childhoods. In the past, I was unable to relate to their stories, as they grew up in an environment with an entirely different social structure. However, now, the cultural knowledge that I had amassed enabled me to understand why these experiences were so important to them, because of their cultural significance, thus allowing me to identify with my grandparents’ youth. Furthermore, it fuelled my curiosity about other cultures, and upon research, found heart-warming similitude in seemingly starkly dissimilar cultures. Life-changing experiences need not be large-scale events. Just like how I listened at that JJ Lin concert, sometimes, all you have to do is 聽.

Works cited

  1. Chao, Y. R. (1968). Language and Symbolic Systems. Cambridge University Press.
  2. DeFrancis, J. (1984). The Chinese Language: Fact and Fantasy. University of Hawaii Press.
  3. Feng, L., & Liping, Y. (2017). Chinese Language Learning in the Early Grades: A Handbook of Resources and Best Practices for Mandarin Immersion. Routledge.
  4. Li, C., & Thompson, S. (1981). Mandarin Chinese: A Functional Reference Grammar. University of California Press.
  5. Ramsey, S. R. (1987). The Languages of China. Princeton University Press.
  6. Wang, D. (2008). The Chinese Language Today. Hong Kong University Press.
  7. Zhou, Y. (2010). Contemporary Chinese: Textbook 1 (Simplified Characters). Sinolingua.
  8. Xing, J. (2015). How the Chinese Language Works: A Cognitive Linguistic Perspective. Palgrave Macmillan.
  9. Chan, A. (2011). Listening: The Forgotten Skill: A Self-Teaching Guide (2nd ed.). Wiley.
  10. Goh, C. C. M., & Taib, Y. (2006). Metacognitive Instruction in Listening for Young Learners. ELT Journal, 60(3), 222-232.

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