The essay "My Journey to Explore the Gift of the Chinese Language" is written by Zachary Ming Zhi Tan.
11-year-old Zachary is a learner at St. Joseph Institution International School in Singapore. He has spent some time in China during a school trip to Chengdu and shares his experiences of learning Chinese with us.
As I walked down the narrow alley, I listened to the unique sounds of the local inhabitants going around their everyday business, which included street vendors shouting to advertise their products, thumping sound of footsteps their feet made on the loosely packed gravel street, and the general communications of one person to another in the beautiful, fluid and rich language in which they spoke.
But something was wrong. I couldn’t understand a single phrase, or for that matter, word. After all, I was in the wonderful province of Xiamen, China, where the local language was Chinese, a language which I had not a clue how to speak.
It was from then on, the inspiration which spurred me to learn Chinese started. Even to this day, I have not yet mastered Chinese, far from it, but it is that drive, the one that I found on that day, which keeps me going. From then, I have gotten multiple Chinese lessons a week, private tutoring and even being forced to read Chinese books, all to improve my understanding, vocabulary, and deeper knowledge of the rich Chinese language.
The second time I went to China was to Shanghai, for a 2-week-long Chinese camp. I was better prepared and equipped to learn and explore the language of Chinese. After the camp and speaking to many of the students and teachers there, I felt as though I had once again added to my then small bubble of Chinese vocabulary and knowledge.
However, my journey has not been without challenges. To prepare for tests, I must practice extremely hard in the weeks before, still not being able to achieve the same level of fluency and familiarity that the mainland Chinese kids have of their local language. However, beyond my intention to master the language, I try to enrich my understanding of the country too.
I have been on school excursions to Chengdu and Xi’an, where I learned more about the culture and history of these cities, which helps me to understand the Chinese language in ways which I could not do sitting behind a textbook.
As a Chinese proverb significantly stated: “To learn a language is to have one more window from which to look at the world.”
As we learn more languages our window to the world opens wider. Now that is truly the gift of languages.
In the Age category 8 - 11 years, Zachary Ming Zhi's essay shows that language learning is hard work, but brings enormous pleasure. Zachary tells us that Chinese is a difficult language to learn, however, he tells us also "every experience I have with China re-energises his interest to learn the language". We strongly agree that learning a language and experiencing another culture during travels allows us a multitude of opportunities and insights that we otherwise could not experience. Well done, Zachary Ming Zhi! Congratulations!
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