Hits and Misses

Andrei Marks · May 26, 2008

So the summer that started my Mandarin studies really opened my eyes about language, and the limitations present in the study of it. I had a Kazakh classmate whom I could talk with in Russian at the beginning of the summer. But we had split into different classes and after seeing each other at the end of the summer, it was as if all the Russian had been pushed out of my head. I kept pulling out Chinese words and stumbling over my grammar.

When I got back to Columbia I still hadn’t learned my lesson, because I signed up for Russian, Mandarin, Italian, Finnish, and Classical Greek. Haha, after about a week I dropped Finnish and Greek. Then in another two weeks I dropped everything but Mandarin, and made up my mind to concentrate on that. I’d tested into the second year of Chinese, but that was still a little too easy, and the next semester I tested into fourth year Chinese, but I decided to take that and third year concurrently, not wanting to miss anything.

The summer after junior year I was back in Beijing, at Beida, and Tsinghua for the fall semester. I made the mistake of trying to take undergraduate classes. They were difficult at my level then, and I was not very motivated at all. That was a nasty block on my transcript, and I regret not having opted to take the straight language classes. After returning to the States I switched tracks and went heavy into biology, rather than language, and worked at a neurobio laboratory for a year after graduation.

That was a wonderful experience, all in all. Met lots of great people, did lots of interesting things, met my fiancee!, but my Mandarin languished for a year and a half. So I left in the summer of 2007 and headed back to Beijing, imagining I’d perfect my Chinese and pursue a career in translation. So I went for tutoring, went back to Tsinghua for some language courses, and I’m currently doing an internship in a Chinese legal firm, where I get to do a lot of translation work. However, I’ve decided to drop the idea of working as a translator, at least for now. One of the things I realized is that it’s not so much the perfection of a language that I like, it’s the acquisition of it that tickles my fancy.

At the end of last semester I learned Hiragana and Katakana (in six hours thanks to this book), and in the last few months, and especially hard in just the last month, I’ve been working on my Japanese! And I love it! However, what worries me is that I’m not in an immersive environment, and have limited contact with native speakers. But I’ve been working around that. For the rest of my life I will not always have the opportunity to be in the countries or regions whose languages I am learning, so I’ll have to come up with strategies to deal with it.

This blog is basically going to be a record of how I develop those strategies, and how I implement them daily.

Next time: Japanese in China?

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