|History is intoxicating. It stirs something in my soul to walk the same footsteps that mankind has for hundreds, and sometimes even thousands, of years. My love affair with history is what prompted me to start studying Chinese culture. I’ve held a certain fascination for foreign cultures, especially languages, my entire life. A frequent traveler, my grandmother would bring me newspapers and advertisements in Arabic, Greek, French, and many other foreign languages as she jetted around the world. I remember being in my pre-teen years, when I was mostly a bookworm and less of a teenager, locked up in my room trying to decipher the characters in an Egyptian newspaper. While I was competent in Romance and Germanic languages, I never possessed the right materials or was dedicated enough to learn any of the more difficult Sinitic or Semitic languages. At least that was true until this year.
I began my journey into the Chinese culture by scouring the local business listings for Chinese grocery stores and restaurants – but not the “Americanized” versions; I wanted to immerse myself into the real culture of China. Unfortunately, Miami seems to be one of the large cities that does not have a standout “Chinatown”, as New York, San Francisco, and several other big US cities have. I delved further into the listings and was able to find a few options in the South Florida area. However eating Dim Sum, cooking Chinese delicacies at home, and learning to use chopsticks properly just weren’t enough: I needed to know more, I needed to learn the language.
Budget restrictions have forced me to find free resources for learning the language. Thankfully, due to the immense amount of free information on the internet and in local libraries, I was able to start learning right away. Livemocha.com is now one of my favorite websites. I attribute most of my current Chinese knowledge to Livemocha, which has been a tremendous learning tool that I am constantly recommending. But, as many language-learners can relate to, there is a difference between learning a language through textbooks and learning by example. I have been fortunate enough to start a language exchange, through my membership in the International Language Service Corps, with a woman in China. While I have only spoken a few times with her, it has been an extremely rewarding experience.
I will be a life-long student; I enjoy learning as much as I enjoy using the knowledge acquired. Whether or not you believe in the story of Babylon, if all the languages of the world were made to keep us from understanding one another, this hurdle has been rendered irrelevant in our new age of instant information. The next time you travel to a foreign country, make sure to learn a little about the culture and their language. You will be surprised at how much more you can understand than just the meanings of a few words.