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Language Learning

A photo of a sheet of paper with a Chinese character written on it several times

This photograph was taken by littlegreenfroggy.

I’m not sure how much I’ve spoken about it here, but I used to be somewhere between beginner and intermediate level in both Hindi and Mandarin. I was self-taught and it was a lot of fun.

I guess that to most people, it sounds a crazy combination of languages, but to me it fulfilled a lifetime preference – for as long as I can remember, I’ve had very little interest in languages written in the Roman alphabet. I don’t know why exactly, but I think it has something to do with there being less to learn, already knowing the alphabet as an English speaker. And having learned different scripts I have to say there is something almost magical in reading them as you do your own language. There have been occasions when I’ve indicated, for example, a shop sign to someone, to show them we’ve found the place we were looking for, and been met by bemusement. I suppose when a different script becomes as natural as your mother tongue, it’s hard to understand how others can’t understand it, too.

Hindi and Mandarin fit my interests. After I left school, I discovered Bollywood as well as Japanese music. J-pop lead to me discovering Chinese television. Somehow I skipped learning Japanese. At school, learning languages is (or at least was) about textbooks and old tape cassettes. With Bollywood and Chinese TV, their English subtitles, I didn’t even notice at first that I was learning. The true interest in the mediums, as well as a burgeoning desire to learn the languages, lead me to be able to understand quite a lot in a short period of time. I bought books to learn writing. The only thing always lacking was my speaking ability.

My learning ceased around the time I met my boyfriend; I started to become interested in following his example and going to university. I stopped watching Bollywood films because the new releases were sexual and what had drawn me to the industry was the sensuality. I didn’t stop listening to the music, but J-pop was taking more of my listening time, and I suppose I just have a natural tendency towards visuals and subtitles as learning tools.

I want to pick up Chinese again. I have more of an interest in Chinese, it’s stood the test of time with me. The script is daunting, and re-learning approximately 250 characters just to begin with, some of which are incredibly similar to one another, is hard. It’s my hope that writing this post will push me to start.

It’s my non-existent knowledge of Japanese, besides the characters taken from Chinese, that baffles me. I have been listening to Japanese music for nine years now, and yet I’ve learned only a smattering of it. I can only assume it’s that lack of visuals, the fact I listen for the music and forget to find translations of the lyrics, and that out of the two Asian languages I’d prefer to know Chinese. But still, it’s odd.

Have you learned another language, or have an interest in learning one?



July 26, 2013, 11:29 am

One of my only regrets from my time at school was that I never committed to learning a second language. I was automatically selected to learn German but always wanted to learn Spanish instead. Unfortunately my school didn’t do a full course in Spanish.

I think you are very brave with your choices of languages! The idea of completely different alphabets petrifies me. I am currently looking into learning British Sign Language because I think could be really beneficial to the work I do in and out of schools.

Judith / Leeswammes

July 26, 2013, 11:33 am

Charlie, I love it that you have an interest in other languages. At school, we learned Dutch, German, English and French (of which only Dutch (native) and English (fluent) have stood the test of time).

For a while I did an evening course in Japanese which I loved. Unfortunately, the amount of homework made me stop (it was a bit of a crash course for people that were going to visit Japan soon, which I wasn’t). I loved leaning a bit of the language and the character writing. Most of all I loved the special grammar. So, they count with a suffix depending on the form of an object. I think counting postage stamps, you’d start at ichi-mai (one), ichi meaning one, mai meaning “flat object”. For round objects and other forms they have a different suffix when counting. As a language lover this really intrigued me.


July 26, 2013, 11:44 am

How very impressive! I studied Spanish for years but only remember maybe 2 words! LOL (or, not LOL)

vicki (skiourophile / bibliolathas)

July 26, 2013, 12:02 pm

I completely ‘get’ the character thing, as I did ancient Greek at university – there is such a thrill in being able to read something that in another alphabet. (And, it is still useful for figuring out modern Greek, more or less). I hope you will pursue what is obviously both a love and a challenge, Charlie.

Jenny @ Reading the End (formerly Jenny’s Books)

July 27, 2013, 1:42 am

Ahhhh I wish I could learn proper Mandarin. I haven’t got anyone to practice with is the problem. I have a good accent and I could learn it really well if I had lots of money and time for proper classes.

(This is true of many, many languages. I have a list. If I could have one wish from a genie I would wish for languages.)


July 27, 2013, 6:15 am

That’s so great! I hope you try to learn Mandarin again, I think it would be very useful. So would Hindi, really – you would be able to converse with almost 1/3 of the world’s population if you mastered those two!


July 27, 2013, 8:47 am

I would love to know more languages, but I don’t think my head is wired to concentrate on learning them – that or I’m just lazy.

I had a time of learning Spanish and I found the construction of sentences really easy, but I didn’t excel in the speaking so much. I think you, like me, enjoy the puzzle of other languages, understanding their construction from a basic level.

I think it’s a great idea to pick up your learning – I think I would learn another European language if I had a friend who spoke one, but with what you were describing you don’t need that with learning Chinese and Hindi as you had visuals.


July 29, 2013, 2:07 pm

I would like to know more languages, but the thing is that I want to know a language really well, so I do whatever I need to learn what I want to learn (courses and official exams that tell you what your leve is).
That’s what I’m doing with English, and I suppose that I will do the same in the future with other languages.
I admire how you work on your own with those two super-difficul languages, and I hope you continue learning them, because you loose your level very fast if you stop studying. I’m sure you will talk about your progress soon ;)

Belle Wong

July 29, 2013, 3:02 pm

I’ve always been terrible with the speaking part of learning languages. I’d like to learn Mandarin, too – both to speak and to read – but it’s been one of those “someday I’ll get around to it” things!



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