Language: Enjoying Every Minute of It!

By Lin Wang

After learning English as my second language, and working for years in the translating and teaching professions in China, I’ve always felt fortunate and grateful for how wonderfully languages have empowered me with knowledge and strength, opened a big and marvelous world for me to embrace, and blessed me with abundant friendships.

Here in Canada, I again have the opportunity to be a “cultural ambassador” teaching the Chinese language and culture at the Folk Art Multicultural Centre.

My students were motivated to learn Chinese for diverse reasons. For some, it’s a pleasant extension to their working or traveling experience in China or preparation for future travel or employment. For others, it satisfies a spiritual need, such as reviving or learning the original language of their ancestors. For the rest, it might be simply the joy of conquering something new and different and being able to communicate with people who speak this specific language.

Al is full of curiosity about China and passion to learn Chinese. Working as a taxi driver, Al is more exposed to international students than the average person in Canada. It took him only a few classes before he could impress his Chinese passengers with his unique, even funny pronunciation. His communication style is possibly not pure and standard enough to the ear of native speakers, but Al is proud of his speedy achievement. Al dreams of visiting and teaching English in China and volunteering at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

Helen is not connected to China in any way. She simply likes the adventure of learning the language. Whenever we discuss culture-related issues, Helen looks amazed to know that things can be so different in so many ways. Whenever she goes to shopping malls or Chinese restaurants, she remembers to practice her newly learned phrases or sentences. And she is definitely delighted to receive warm responses from the Chinese people she greets with, “Ni-hao!”

Mike, a retired teacher, now has time to follow his interest in exploring Chinese scenery and martial arts. He loves the melody and lyrics of a song we learned as part of Chinese culture. Our languages and cultures might be totally different, but love of music can be universally heart-warming. Mike was pleased to perform some Chinese songs at a past Chinese New Year’s celebration.

Joy understands the value of learning to “think in Chinese”. She is such a respectful person who participates actively in class. She seizes every opportunity to watch Chinese TV, attend Chinese parties, and collect newspaper reports and pictures related to China. Her purpose is simple: to make her future adopted child from China feel at home.

Andrea is an experienced ESL teacher. Having worked in China for a year and a half, she has whole-heartedly fallen in love with her Chinese students and everything related to China. She wears very traditional and comfortable Chinese cloth shoes, and she cherishes a special watch which features a Chinese historical figure’s arm waving up and down. She plans to go back to China soon.

Jesse and Chase are twin teen brothers. When I asked them why they chose to learn Chinese, rather than any other languages, their shared response truly impressed me: “China is a big country and we want to learn its language so that we can communicate with Chinese business partners and make big money from the big market!” Ambition counts, no matter how old they are.

Last but not least there’s Theresa, an authentic looking Chinese lady born in Canada. Theresa’s parents are immigrants from Cantonese-speaking regions. Theresa did not realize how much opportunity might be lost if she couldn’t utilize Mandarin, until the company she works for started to expand to China. How embarrassing it could be if she couldn’t communicate in situations related to China.

In one of her emails to me, Theresa wrote: “The more I practice Mandarin with my parents, the more they smile. Today I sang the classical “Two Tigers” children song to my dad and he started to laugh hysterically as it took him back to his younger days.
I think it made his day. You’ve changed my view on Mandarin forever in that it doesn’t have to be so difficult to learn and it can actually be fun!”

As a language teacher, I have so many interesting stories to tell about each of my students, be they from Canada, Macedonia, Germany, Columbia, Haiti, Japan, South Korea, Vietnam… even China! The best reward a teacher could get is when students tell you: “I enjoyed every minute of it!” Every class is a pleasant journey, often comprised of impressive advancements for both learners and myself.

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “A thousand mile journey starts with the first step.” My admiration and credit always goes to those students who have the determination and persistence to take the challenge of learning a totally different language, such as Chinese.

With the bridge built from languages, we come to know how much we have in common, and what life’s truths, goodness and beauty we share. Choose and learn a language, today.

CNM