If you had ever set eyes on the character Biang, a traditional Chinese character made up of 56 strokes, then, perhaps you may have said no to learn Chinese as a second language. The first time I set my eyes on this character, surprisingly I said to myself, “Wow! Is this a drawing? What kind of drawing is it?” I could ask myself these questions whenever I saw Chinese characters. I also wondered how Chinese or foreign speakers learned and wrote it. Yes, this adversity of learning Chinese has affected many foreign speakers and it certainly affected me.. However, I had learnt to deal with this adversity.
Upon my admission to the University of Liberia, a very good friend and classmate of mine, who had studied Chinese a semester ago, told me, “Dwilson, do you know that I also learnt Chinese here?”
With anxiety, I would say to him in a soft tone, “Wow, that’s good. Where then? Can you take me there?”
“Sure,” he said.
He then led me up the stairs to the classroom. I could see my friends laughing, pronouncing and writing characters altogether. All I could say was, “Wow!”
I could only hear but I did not understand what they were saying. All that I had learnt that day was to say, “Ni hao” which means hello.
That night I did not sleep. I could only imagine every moment in the classroom with my friends. The next morning I arrived at the classroom two hours early. I sat confused with eyes wide open, looking here and there. Soon, the teacher arrived and we were all ready.
I tried repeating every sound after her, but I could not say anything at all. I could only see her lips gesturing. Then when she pronounced, I could try to imitate her but my lips were still. They were so heavy that I couldn’t shift so freely. I held them tightly for a while, then I burst out with laughter.
She told me to write. I started to write. I did not know the stroke order; I could write any character and then the others. I wrote all the characters she wrote. Though, it was tough I could still write them.
“These characters are sweaty to write,” I would say to her while pointing at them.
She had always told me, “Yes, come on! They will get better.”
This was my first time writing Chinese characters. My fingers were all stiff and my face began to sweat.
I returned home that day thinking about every moment in the classroom. Even though these characters were strenuous, it was a kind of fun to get started. That night I set aside a time to study. At first, I could practice writing characters for about 30 minutes, then my head would get hot and I would get confused. I could quit the study immediately, take a nap and then continue again. Friends would laugh at me when they saw me studying, but I didn’t mind, I kept climbing the steps each day.
A few weeks after that, I could study for about two hours or more. At this time, I could imitate some tones, pronounce and write some characters. I could wake up between 12:30 and 6:00 am to study. I did all my assignments on time and went to classes frequently. Day after day, this adversity about learning Chinese was fading away and the spirit of learning Chinese was filling my heart.
I could master the stroke orders of some characters but to record a character and its intonation was so rigorous.
“I’m at another cross roads,” I would say to myself.
There were times I wanted to quit learning Chinese, and other times I would just keep on encouraging myself. Yes, I kept struggling, I devoted more time. I could escape from home just to study Chinese. I even needed to abandon other courses to study Chinese. I did this for about a year. Now, at least, I can read some phrases and write some characters in Chinese. I can even understand a few words when a Chinese person speaks.
This is a great experience. Overcoming these adversities, from writing characters to pronouncing words. It was a mountain before me back then, learning a language that is quite different from my mother tongue. I felt that Chinese was hard but soon I realised that Chinese is just as easy as any other language in the world.
Tell us: Do you feel it is important to learn a new language?