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24. My Experience of Learning Mandarin

In the 50’s my grandmother and my grandfather decided to immigrate to Panama without anything to start a new life. Immigrants from Canton, China, both started working at the counter of a local convenient store. They worked from Monday to Sunday, taking rest when the other one was working, and saving as much as they could. With the pass of the months and the unstoppable working routing, my grandparents managed to adapt to their new environment, to save money, and to undertake the difficult task of learning Spanish. These three elements gave them enough support to advance to their second goal, start a family. Here is where my mother came from. She has four sisters and one brother. And as you can conclude, my grandparents are really traditional because they tried several times to have their male offspring before stop procreating. Being an Asian immigrant back in the 50’s was really difficult. There were a lot of prejudges, stereotypes, and discrimination toward foreigners. This was the main reason and the biggest mistake of why my mother, aunties, and uncle cannot speak Chinese. My grandparents were afraid to teach them Chinese as it later might give them a hard time to adapt to the society because of the language barrier. Although I consider this as a mistake, I can tell from what they did, how big their concern was and good care was for their children.

To learn Mandarin for me has been a very interesting experience as Mandarin is very different from the other languages I've learned like English. Learning Mandarin is not only its writing by countless characters that are used but also the pronounciation of four different tones for a word that can change even if the same script in Ping-Ying but their tones can make it become a completely different word to others. I have made mistakes in the use of tones. It turned My good intention to not good one.

On the other hands, Mandarin for me is one of the three most important languages in the world. I am from a country in Latin America, and the incorporation of the Chinese market to these countries has led many professionals not only interested in studying English, where native languages are Spanish or Portuguese, but we are thinking in Asian markets, making us more competitive professionals in a market where competition is fierce. Any professional who speaks English and Chinese automatically becomes a very competitive and with more opportunities to get a better job with their academic and professional background.

International exchange language is considered to be English, however, Chinese is getting more and more important in the world, due to the development of Asian countries. Being in Taiwan is a huge opportunity to learn Chinese behind my study. Before leaving my country (Burkina Faso) for Taiwan, many friends including high ranking governmental officers and businessmen suggested me to learn Chinese as much as it is possible as I couldn’t say anything in Chinese, except: Ni hao and Xie xie. At that time I was not so confident that I shall be able to speak even basic Chinese one day.

I started learning mandarin the first few weeks I came to Taiwan during our orientation with ICDF. However, it was not difficult to learn the introductory part as a start. Both practical and theoretical methods were applied by the teacher and by the end of the orientation everyone was able to introduce our selves and count figures.

As we finish the orientation, I thought I could go out then and apply with the Taiwanese the little I was able to learn. But surprisingly for me, the local people struggled to understand when I tried to speak. As that went on for a while, I lose confident to speak since I thought it was pointless speaking when people cannot understand me. Even a simple introduction outside became a problem.

I never expected learning Mandarin in my life, I always thought that it was too hard, too complicated. When I saw Chinese characters in the cover box of the products from China or Taiwan, I was scared thinking that I would never need to learn this kind of language, really too strange. However, learning a foreign language is not bad; it’s a good tool for learners.

I am Mauricio Cueva Bravo. I am currently studying in the Technology Management Department at National Tsing Hua University, also known as NTHU or its full name in Chinese as國立清華大學, I’m a graduate student. My study program is called International Master’s in Business Administration. My favorite jobbies is the photography.

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.

Learning Chinese was one of my personals goals at the time when I decide to come to Taiwan, but once I was here I realize the difficulty of this language, people say that for us is easier to learn English because some how are similar to the Spanish but what a surprise for me was to listen a completely different language in sound, no one word similar to my native language, but ok I understood that about Chinese, and thought, lets start from the beginning and then my Chinese teacher refuse to talk in English, so, if I had some question I said it in English but she start to explain in Chinese, I didn’t understand at that moment but now I am able to understand that the mind just is forced to work if its has the necessity, and in this case the necessity was created from the very beginning.

My first occurrence of learning Mandarin was at an orientation held by International Cooperation Development Funds in 2009. Giving foreign students the opportunity to learn Mandarin is very wise. Language is a form of expression; I have certainly found myself in situations which required speaking Mandarin.

I was given a copy of the pronunciation of the sounds and recalled going over them so many times. Every sound was so similar. Then I was introduced to the tones which I tried to pronounce. Sometimes reading words with the tones worked well with some of my hand movements. Learning Mandarin requires a lot of time and commitment. The words I can more easily remember are the ones I use in every day oral communication. When someone speaks Mandarin fluently in my presence some of the words register in my mind. At first I tried to link the sounds to the English alphabet; however, that was no good. I just had to memorize the sounds. I recalled a day when the teacher asked if we knew our Chinese name. I taught to myself, why do I need a Chinese name when I have an English name. However, after I was given my Chinese name I taught it sound pleasant. I was happy to share my name with others. I also like the characters use in writing my name; moreover, they seem artistic. It was like the experience of writing the English alphabet as a child. There were Chinese names given to some of my classmates that did not sound too pleasant; there were laughers when the names were shared.

My is name Ishaqa Bah, bearing a Chinese name as bai y-sha. I came from The Gambia, the Smiling Coast of Africa in the western part of Africa. I was extremely happy when I was informed that I have been awarded a scholarship to poseur my master’s degree in Human Resource Development at the National Normal Taiwan University in Taiwan. Before travelling to Taiwan I was wondering and worried about the new environment that I will be living in for two years, once Taiwan is completely different from The Gambia in terms of culture, religion, food, customs, climate and language. Therefore, I consulted some Gambians who visited Taiwan as well as students who graduated from Taiwan. All of them advised and encourage me to accept the offer, because of the rich culture and good experience they had in Taiwan, especially the warm hospitality they received from the Taiwanese people.