Since I was a child, I have always liked other languages. For me, they offer the perfect opportunity of learning in a more proficient way about other cultures, traditions, and other different mindsets. That is why I studied English, French, and a little bit of German during my school years. However, learning Mandarin has been by farthest the major challenge that I had to face when trying to achieve this goal.

I came to Taiwan without any knowledge of Mandarin. I knew it was a hard language to learn, but I never thought how tough it was going to be. I believed that once I arrived to Taiwan, I would learn it much easier than if I had actually began studying it in my home country, Nicaragua. My mistake! When I arrived to the airport, I couldn't even correctly pronounce “xie xie”. This is when I first realized that I had to work very hard if I wanted to learn this language.

I remember my first week of learning Mandarin; we had a great teacher in the orientation week. She taught us our first words, the numbers and phrases like “Nǐ hǎo ma?” (how are you?). At this point, my friends and I could go out and ask in Chinese how they were doing. I remember feeling happy when Taiwanese understood what I was saying. As well, during that week, I learned my Chinese name, “Sūn fán yà”, which I still find it hard to pronounce! However, my fellow Taiwanese classmates say that it is a beautiful and a “very Chinese” name.

During my following weeks in Taiwan, I had a difficult time trying to understand mandarin; I didn't understand anything at all! However, thanks to my Mandarin teacher and my classmates, I was able to acquire the basics of this language. Now, every time I go out to buy something, I try to practice my mandarin. Most of the time, the Taiwanese sellers try to speak to me in English, but when they hear me trying to speak in mandarin, they begin talking in mandarin and try to help me with the pronunciation. This is amazing about the Taiwanese; they are very patient and value a lot when they see that a foreigner is trying to embrace their language.

In fact, it is also worth to mention another good aspect about the Taiwanese: their hospitality. Whenever I go to some place where the seller does not speak English and I cannot communicate in Mandarin, if there is someone who is buying or just passing by that speaks English, he or she will help me out. They will translate for me and stay there until I finish my shopping; they do not mind spending their time helping a foreigner. Furthermore, if I am lost (which happens frequently!), and I ask a Taiwanese for directions, they walk me over to the place where I want to go. Even if it is very far, they do not mind. They come with me and enjoy practicing their English just as much as I enjoy practicing my Mandarin with them.

Although it has been very challenging learning Mandarin, I have enjoyed the time I spend studying it. What I like the most is learning how to draw the Chinese characters. When my Taiwanese classmates see me practicing, they come close to me and offer me their help. They go the extra mile by showing me new characters that are not even in the book. They encourage me by telling me phrases like “keep going!” or “your Chinese characters are really well done”. I still don't know if the last one is true, but they make me feel good about my writing and give me enough confidence to keep learning.

Another way that I find excellent to get more acquainted with the language is what some classmates and I call a “language exchange”. We gather together and we help each other with the languages that we are each are fluent in. I help them with their English, and in some cases, with their Spanish (my mother tongue), and in return, they help me with my Chinese. The best thing about these meetings is that I do not only learn about the language, but also about the Taiwanese culture and traditions, which is my ultimate goal. Even if my Mandarin might be at this point poor, I feel that I have learned a lot during my first year of studying here in Taiwan. I know that by the end of my master studies I will be able to speak and write much better this beautiful language.

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