Postcards from China Blog #3: Language and Culture Learning
September 7, 2018
Rebecca Boiney ’20 shares the joys and challenges of learning Chinese through Asbury’s China Study Abroad program.
“Wait, she is going to try to talk to me in Chinese?” I asked in panicked disbelief as my friends returned one-by-one to the largest classroom in Faithful Language School.
We were each being evaluated by a teacher on our Chinese so that we could be placed in a class of the appropriate level for the next seven weeks. I, however, had a problem: before I left for China, my only experience with the complex language was my receiving three books on the topic for Christmas, followed by my attempt at teaching myself how to write the characters for “hello” and 1-10. Somehow, I doubted that I would be able to use that knowledge to carry on a conversation with a native speaker. As it turns out, however, the woman who interviewed me spoke perfect English, and she (Melinda) would actually become my teacher during our time at Faithful.
Studying Chinese at an accelerated pace for the past few weeks has taught me two essential lessons: the first is that learning for the sake of learning is an exciting and liberating concept. All of our team spends three hours a day in language classes and is assigned a sizable amount of work to do at home. Not to mention, we also have three culture classes with which to keep up.
However, I have found that the point of putting in effort for these classes is not merely to scrape together pieces of inapplicable knowledge for a test. Rather, it is to actively pursue the skills that we are being taught, because they are essential to our ability to thrive in China. For example, the more people I meet here, the more I want to be able to effectively carry on conversations with them. To accomplish this, I need to know the language and understand the mindset of those people. Hence, I want to put effort into soaking up everything I hear from my more experienced language and culture teachers; I am learning because I have a genuine desire to know.
The second lesson I have learned is that fear and courage are two essential ingredients to God’s provision of blessings. Before coming to China, I was afraid of what hardships and embarrassment I would face in trying to learn Chinese. As it turns out, my Chinese class consists of only four people: myself, Melinda, Michael (my classmate and fellow-Asburian), and “Wang Laoshi” (a teacher who sits in the back to record our sessions). Unexpectedly, as these classes have progressed, all of my initial anxiety about learning this difficult language has turned to genuine enjoyment.
Since we had to start from the very basics of Chinese, Melinda spent the first twelve hours of class teaching us pronunciations. In practice, this meant that the four of us essentially spent twelve hours making lots of noises at one another! So much laughter, curiosity, and friendship have arisen as a beautiful bonus to language acquisition.
Although learning Chinese is certainly a challenge, I am figuring out that something can be both difficult and fun — and that trying to avoid the difficult parts of life can mean missing out on some amazing things. Just like Peter, I have to trust God as he teaches me to step out on the water in faith. Even when the waves surround me, as long as I keep my eyes on Him, I know I am safe in His prosperous hands.