We asked our interns to tell us about their experiences with language.
From Vernon Li:
I first came across Latin as a 13 year-old preparing for Western (British) school entrance exams. I was definitely interested, but also intimidated; after all, I only had experience learning Mandarin and a tiny bit of French. I was not used to Latin, where the words shifted in and out of order, and every noun had 7 declensions (grammatical variants) depending on its usage.
At first, I struggled with the language; Latin is a language which requires repetition and very good memory. I preferred learning French, where all the introductory phrases were easy to memorise (Bonjour! Ca va? Ca va bien!) (Hello! How are you? I’m good!). However, as I internalised the different grammatical structures and patterns, I began to find Latin much easier than French, and also more interesting.
After all, if you knew all the grammatical rules for all the verbs, you could construct any sentence you wanted; it was almost like building a Lego set with different grammar pieces! Unlike languages we speak in the modern world, there were also fewer quirks, strange pronunciations and cultural exceptions to the rules.
Most importantly, Latin ended up helping me with learning other languages; when I took Russian lessons in university, having experience with Latin helped me with learning Russian noun declensions. Furthermore, it helped me understand that unlike English or Chinese, verbs had different conjugations and forms: Latin’s present verb conjugation for “to be” was sum, es, est, sumus, estis, sunt. For Chinese, we sometimes don’t even use the verb “to be” (今天天气很热)!
After starting Latin, I ended up learning it for 4 years. Looking back at my old Latin notebooks, I now realize how much I learnt about linguistics and Indo-European history. Of course, Latin is taught at very few schools and may not be used in modern times very much. However, I appreciate the perspective it has given me about language learning and Western culture. Anyways, cura ut valeas, which is Latin for “take care”!
From Ray Liang:
我对自己学习不佳的理论是，作为一个大约 7 岁的孩子，我无法理解为什么我要学习所有这些废话。当我和父母一起去北京申请厄瓜多尔签证时，情况发生了变化。我这辈子没见过这么多外国人，他们真的无处不在！我和我的父母去这家餐厅用餐，我看到附近有一些外国人在吃饭。我的母亲一直认为我有点太内向，她说服我去他们的桌子，问我是否可以和他们一起坐一会儿。我真的很害怕这群异国情调的人，但后来我意识到他们在胡言乱语中说我能理解一些事情。当然，可能是所有事物的 5%，但由于我的语言课，我理解了一些短语。在那一刻，我明白了学习语言的重要性，从那时起学习变得更简单了。
From Panthita Triamkitsawat:
生长在一个中泰混血家庭并时常辗转于不同城市间，我与大四岁的姐姐时常需要踏出自己的舒适圈—可能是认识新的人、亦或是适应一个新的语言环境。在泰国出生的我实际上在国内长大，对年幼时期在泰国生活的那段时间只有一些相对零星且模糊的记忆。然而有一件事，让我直至今日都记忆如新。在我刚刚开始记事的时候，曾因父母工作原因搬到曼谷居住了一整年。由于此前都在中国长大，我和姐姐的泰语都相对生疏。不同于还没有到学龄的我，已经在上学的姐姐必须要在零泰语基础的情况下就读一所当地的学校。一开始我羡慕极了— 看着姐姐第一天上学出门前眼里透露的出难以掩饰的兴奋，我恨不得赶紧长大，跟着她一起上学。然而下午放学时，姐姐一脸沮丧的回到了家。平时在家里咋咋唬唬的她那天就像一朵蔫了的花，晚饭后和母亲在房里短暂的哭诉后就睡了过去。第二天清晨，在姐姐不情不愿的被送出门后，抑制不住好奇的我追问了母亲姐姐上学后情绪低落的缘由。由于对泰语不熟悉，第一天上学的姐姐就被重重的打击了—原本在国内时常被评为三好学生的她，因为害怕被同学嘲笑在课堂上变得畏畏缩缩。年龄较小，易受感染的我在看到姐姐的经历后也那段时间开始抵触学习泰语。然而，随着时间推移，姐姐心态也渐渐的转变了。后来，在父母以及学校老师的开导下，姐姐泰语不断地进步。她不仅课堂中也渐渐变得更加自信，更结交了很多本地的朋友。看着姐姐每天上下学踏出踏进家门时逐渐变轻的步伐，我也受到了很大的鼓舞。在姐姐的感染下，我重拾了对学习语言的兴趣，更在母亲的引领下开始学习了泰语和英语。十几年过去了，这件事仍然对我有着持续的影响，我也一直视这件事为自己对语言的热爱的开端。对我而言，学习语言像是一次次打破自我舒适圈的过程 — 克服了困境后，终究会收获一个更好的自己。
Before my journey began in Australia before 1998, I was one of those very few who was so into skateboarding in China at a very early time. We often considered ourselves as the pioneers of the Chinese skaters, and local tour guides to foreign skaters from all around the world.
It was all so simple, when we were out on our skateboards, with that speed and freedom to go anywhere we like anytime with a group of interesting people from around the places, and that’s how I began my practical english speaking journey. At first, we always have skaters from Thailand, Vietnam, and sometimes Taiwan and other south east asia countries, then slowly, we have opportunities to join national, or international competitions with skaters from Europe or America. I was around 14 or 15, but my mind had already grown faster than what my living environment can influence me. With the improvement of my language skills, it somehow gave me encouragement to be able to overcome fear of unknown things, such as talking to strangers, and exploring new places. Care and learn from each other during practice, road trips, injuring or exciting moments of when somebody has successfully done a kickflip. We all grow through obstacles, and with this sport, we often need to overcome heavy injuries. However, lucky for us as we were young, and fearless, and this we have to thank the amazing human physical form, and how we learn to protect ourselves, through language of knowledge and experiences from different skaters.
Language capabilities which I gained at a young age, showed me there is nothing to be afraid of, and taught me life is immense, and we all play an important part in it, for most of the time we learn from falling hard on the ground with blood and tears, so that we can get up again, and one more step closer to success.
From Praveen Balakrishnan:
From my experiences, learning new languages is really useful to communicate with different groups of people and to learn about their cultures. When I was a very young child, I was only able to speak in one language: English. This language is essential to learn in America to communicate, and even though learning other languages isn’t “necessary” for the education system here, I found myself missing out. I first started realizing this when I visited my relatives in India. My native language is Tamil, and a large number of my relatives were only able to speak in Tamil instead of English, so my interactions with them would often have to be supported by an intermediary, such as my parents. I found myself distanced from my background and culture, not knowing the language my parents and grandparents could speak, so that is when I set myself a goal to learn Tamil and be able to speak it fluently. Eventually, with the help of my parents, I was able to do so, and now Tamil is the main language that I talk to my parents with at home as well as my relatives in India. Learning this language helped me get the missing piece to understanding my culture, and now whenever I go on trips to India, I can not only interact with my family well but also with other people there, like when I’m going to the supermarket or ordering food from a restaurant. I would highly recommend through my experiences that if anyone is on the fence about learning a new language, go for it! Not only is learning a new language really satisfying, but you also unlock a whole new group of people and culture in the world that you can communicate with that you couldn’t have done before.
From Elizabeth Li:
Language has never been my strong suit. I struggled to communicate with my peers in English as a preschooler because the only language I had known was Chinese. But later on, it became difficult for me to keep up my Chinese after quitting Chinese school and English became the only language I could thoroughly communicate in. It wasn’t until middle school that I had realized language was more than just another class to take and is actually a means to create better and deeper connections with people.
In sixth grade, I took a trip to France with my mom. I remember carrying around a little travel book with basic French greetings and furiously memorizing phrases pertaining to directions before arriving. While excusez-moi and s’il vous plaît got me polite nods from restaurant staff, what really helped us during this trip was my mom’s Italian. When we asked for help in English, we received unenthusiastic replies or were even ignored. But when my mom repeated the same questions in Italian, we were welcomed with detailed instructions and lengthy explanations. While Italian is not quite similar to French, we were seen as European locals while speaking Italian. With English, we were just typical tourists in Paris.
This experience showed me the power of language in connecting people. The way we were perceived completely transformed just through the usage of a different language. Witnessing how valuable language was for genuine communication inspired me to pick up French in middle school. Though my skills are still limited and very basic, I have learned how beneficial an additional language can be for communicating with people all across the world.