I have always been fascinated with languages from a very tender age. In Saint Lucia we speak our native language English and then a French Kweyol (creole). Although at home I was encouraged to speak English, I cannot remember ever being discouraged to speak my second language which is a French Kweyol. My love for languages grew more and more when I was awarded a scholarship to study in Venezuela. I grasped the opportunity to learn the Spanish language not knowing how it would come in handy, but as I looked back I can truly say the experience was worth it. I was able to do translations (English-Spanish and Spanish-English) on various occasions and that helped improved my comprehension and writing skills. I decided then that I would take every opportunity to appreciate every language that I was granted an opportunity to learn. Little did I know that another wonderful opportunity would be awaiting me and would come sooner than later. With that in mind, the real test came when I arrived in Republic of China, Taiwan. As much as I love languages, I just could not fathom how strokes can be interpreted into words. It all just seemed like an impossible task to even attempt or want to venture into. I was determined however, not to create a mental blockage, but I wanted to give it a try.

This time I had a different concept of languages. I often wondered how the Asian society connects all these strokes into words where there is not anything phonetically understood. I thought English was a challenge, but the challenge really started when I realized that Mandarin was at my disposal. Chinese Mandarin is a language that comprises of tones and a written system. It is one of the world’s most widely spoken languages. It is the official language of Taiwan and it is also quite popular in places such as Singapore, and Japan. The tone as well as the way the character is written, determines the meaning of the sound. How could tone and written form possible have anything in common? This was my initial question… but Chinese characters use the Hanyu Pinyin system. Chinese phonetics usages of syllables represent characters which carries a variety of meanings.

I have learned that Mandarin is a systematic form of learning. Chinese use three elements (Shēng, yùn and tones). Tones are divided into four parts, high pitch, mid high pitch, middle pitch and mid low pitch. According to where you put the tone makes a vivid difference in the word. This was probably the most difficult start for me getting the tones. As much as I was having difficulties I did not allow that to discourage me. While walking through the halls of the college, I would often just use the few words that I know in conversing with people I came across. Sometimes the words have nothing to do with the conversation, but I thought I have to start somewhere and what better place to start than with lovely people who I don’t know or who don’t have a clue of who I am. In my mind’s eye these persons will probably laugh, but maybe they will be happy that I am willing to try and the latter is what I take as consolation. I made many errors, and as I get corrected I can see that my vocabulary is improving gradually but greatly. I have conditioned my mind to be willing to take corrections and ask questions as often as needed. Although I knew I will probably never cross paths with some of the persons that I come across on a daily basis as I practice mandarin, I did know that I will be able to use this language in some capacity sometime. Now as I practice the strokes and tones, Mandarin does make complete sense to me, and I have a greater appreciation of the language. I look forward to that day when I can sound just like a Chinese in conversing, and when I get to that point, I will certainly say that the journey was worth it all!

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