I’ve been interested in learning languages for quite a while now. Growing up with an Afrikaans mom (although her English is perfect) and an English dad (although his Afrikaans is also perfect and his Shona isn’t too shabby either), I have grown up being completely bilingual, but developed a fascination for languages when I started high school.
My first attempt was at the age of fourteen to learn Spanish, but I honestly wasn’t interested in the language or culture at the time, so I lost the motivation to continue studying it. I realised how important it was to really have a passion for the target language and culture, and chose a language I had been fanatical about (and honestly still am) – Italian! I have been obsessed with EVERYTHING Italian since I was thirteen years old. I love everything about it – the singing rythm of Italian, the way Italians use so many hand gestures when they speak, how everything sounds so passionate in Italian – and have been studying it on and off up until this year. When I was seventeen, I had brief stints with Danish, Irish and Dutch, but never took anything as serious as my Italian.
I have to admit that I stopped all language learning in my last year of high school since I just wanted to focus on getting the best grade I possibly could on my matric certificate. If I even thought about studying anything that was not related to my school work, I felt like I could just as well study my school work instead. Yes, yes, I know – I am the world’s greatest nerd – I study for fun, am still in mourning over the loss of the tenth Doctor from Doctor Who, and have recently started obsessing over Kung Fu movies. Call me what you want: this is Sas.
When I decided to take a gap year and travel to China with the intention of picking up quite a bit of the language, I was curious as to how difficult this was going to be and if I would be able to go through with it. What I had never expected was to fall absolutely in love with Mandarin Chinese! It is such a difficult language (I’ll go more into detail about that in my next post), but that makes it so much more rewarding when you actually start to pick it up.
The fact that I was constantly surrounded by it helped me to get used to the sound and pronunciation of the language, and that I also needed to speak it in order to do anything (even order a coffee) really forced me to start speaking it from Day 1. I love learning all the different characters and the history behind them. I’ve made friends who can’t speak any English and we converse in Chinese – sure, it’s a struggle, but I would never have met these wonderful people without opening myself up to their language. It is starting to become a part of my identity and it is starting to feel like my language. This really motivates me to continue studying it.
I have been home for about two months now and love working through my Chinese lessons and practicing my characters – I’ll go as far as to say it’s my favourite part of my day! I won’t stop studying Chinese full-time until I am absolutely fluent in it, which will be possible, because Mandarin Chinese is going to be one of my majors next year when I start studying at university.
I definitely still want to learn other languages – Italian being first on the list (I feel like I need to study it properly and not on-off) and others that also interest me are Korean and Japanese – but for now, let’s just stick to Chinese!