How learning Mandarin Chinese Transformed Me
Read Buki's fascinating story of how her passion for Mandarin began
‘A different language is a different vision of life.’ - Federico Fellini
To this statement I do concur, learning languages gave me a new perspective and viewpoint on life, and it all started in Secondary School. In Year 7 I was given the opportunity to learn three different languages; French, Spanish and Mandarin. Mandarin? Yes. I remember laughing at the different tones we had to learn, and how one of my teachers used to lunge and stretch her arms across the board to try and make a point and give a clear illustration. I used to think, ‘this woman is really excited...’, but little did I know that years later, her passion and drive for teaching this unique and beautiful language would soon pass on to me.
As I started to learn more, I started to enjoy the lessons more, became intrigued with the language and culture much, much more. This lead to my participation in the London Beijing Olympics Project, The UK National Mandarin Reading Competition, and so much more…! Learning Mandarin broadened my horizons, brought me out of my comfort zone, challenged me and helped me grow as a young individual. Learning the different sentence patterns and word particles, enabled me to unlock and use a part of my brain which I otherwise would not have. Learning Mandarin became my special factor, my Unique Selling Point (especially when it came to applying for part time jobs and other programmes).
Fast forward a few years, and a few competitions later, I completed my Mandarin GCSE wow!!! What’s the next step, ‘I really enjoyed Mandarin up till GCSE level, but would I be able to cope at A-Level?’ I thought to myself. With the encouragement from my dear teachers I pushed past my fears and doubt and I went for it. ‘Wow, this is a lot harder than I thought’. I am sure most young people can agree that the jump from GCSE’s to A-Levels is one of the biggest jumps one can experience in their education. But, in spite of this I pushed forward, I kept going. I wanted to improve, I wanted to learn more, so much so that I would even speak to random people on the street if I heard them speaking Mandarin, in order to practice more and build my confidence.
I especially enjoyed the Hanban Autumn Camp in China, where I finally had the opportunity to experience Chinese culture and practice the language with the locals.
Another opportunity to build my confidence came along, but for this I was afraid. One of my teachers was encouraging me to take part in the HSBC and British Council Mandarin Speaking Competition…AGAIN! [I had previously taken part twice before, in Year 8 I entered in the beginner’s category, in Year 10 I entered the intermediate category and I made it to the finals, but didn’t place]. Looking back to my previous outcomes I was a little discouraged, not to mention also afraid because this time I would have to enter into the advanced category! I could already imagine the amazing standards of Mandarin that I would have to face and that depleted my confidence. However, my persistent and persuasive teachers managed to encourage me and I entered. Even just taking part in the competition reminded me of how much I enjoyed doing so in the past, the build-up, the momentum the practicing and encouragement.
So the day came, D-day. My heart was beating, legs shaking, and I was taking deep breaths. Finally, it was over, now the waiting game…. I made it to the finals!!! I was ecstatic, over the moon. The preparation started all over again, but this time I took it up a notch! The day came again and now it was the results of the finals ... and I placed… I came 2nd in the HSBC and British Council Advanced Individual Language Ability Mandarin Speaking Competition. (Of course I was a little gutted that I wasn’t first), but I was glad that I placed and I respect the amazing Mandarin learners that I was competing against. Little did I know that I would still have the opportunity to travel to China with the winners!!!
Currently, I am a Law student and I will be going on a year abroad to study Law (and improve my language skills) at the University of Hong Kong (one of the Top 50 Universities in the world, and Top 10 in Asia). Without the opportunity to learn Mandarin, and immerse myself in a new culture (starting from a classroom), I would have never been able to gain such a wealth of fantastic opportunities such as this.
In a world that is becoming increasing globalised, languages are essential, beneficial and greatly advantageous. I think I need not bore you with endless statistics, but just to let you know that bilingual individuals on average earn more than an individual who only knows their native language. Businesses and NGO’s are looking for global individuals with a wider vision and different perspective. With the widespread growth of language learning in schools, having an additional language, is no longer a stand out quality, but rather an essential to keep up with the competitive candidates fighting for the same opportunities.
Overall, besides the former mentioned giving a young person the opportunity to learn another language, is giving them an opportunity to change their life. I would not be who I am today without my amazing teachers (Ms Li and Ms Chen), and the opportunities I have received through learning Mandarin. Therefore, I believe that no young person should not be denied such an opportunity to grow and develop, to gain a wider understanding and viewpoint of the world.
I am not just a Hackney resident, I am not just a Londoner, I am not just British, I am Global!
“One language sets you in a corridor for life. Two languages open every door along the way”– Frank Smith