Title: Adventures in Language
Country: South Korea
Abstract: I love learning languages. It has been great to have an introduction to Korean by native Korean speakers. As I learn more of this new language, I am reminded of the first two languages I tried to learn and how my feelings towards languages has changed over time. Are you interested in foreign languages? Do you want to know what it feels like to arrive in a foreign place where you can’t understand a word anyone says? I think it is both scary and exciting. However, I like scary and exciting things like roller coasters and zombie movies!
Body: Have you ever learned another language? It can be very difficult at first, but it can also be very fun and rewarding. I think it really depends on your attitude toward the language and the setting where you are learning it. The first time I began to seriously study another language was in high school. Students were required to take at least one year of foreign language classes before they could graduate. Even though I wasn’t very interested, I chose French. After a year of study, my French was awful. At that time, I did not understand all the amazing possibilities that a new language offers. I didn’t have anything motivating me to diligently study the language.
The second time I tried to learn another language was completely different. I made a big decision and packed up everything I owned. I moved to a small town in Taiwan! I was there to learn Mandarin Chinese and I was determined to do well. Living in a small town with few English speakers ensured that I would have no choice but to learn the language. If I wanted directions, a haircut, food, groceries, or friends I had to ask for them in Chinese. At first, it was a nightmare. I felt very isolated and was a little scared to go exploring on my own. I wondered about many different possibilities. What if someone started asking me questions or I accidentally did something wrong and got in trouble?
Luckily, I had a few very good friends who helped me. They were native Taiwanese citizens and were very happy to help my language learning. I am still so grateful for everything they taught me, and all of the time they spent helping me get adjusted to my new environment.
I worked very hard to learn as much Chinese as I could. I knew that with strong Chinese, I could become independent. It also was important to understand the language of my new friends. They had all studied years of English, and spoke it quite well! It was only fair that I tried learning their language. As my Chinese improved, I was able to meet and converse with even more amazing people. The world began opening up for me.
I studied in Taiwan for two years before I moved back to the United States. I was very excited to find ways to use my new skill back home. I wanted to be like my Taiwanese friends that had first helped me. I knew there were Chinese people in Arkansas that might be feeling the same isolation that I felt when I arrived in Taiwan.
The first place I helped out was at the local Literacy Council. It is a volunteer organization that teaches adults and children to read and write. I was so surprised that there were not just Chinese people in my city that needed help. There were also Mexicans, Filipinos, Japanese, Russians and several others as well! I had never even known that people from so far away lived in my little town!
I taught English classes 3 times a week for 1 hour each morning. It was so exciting to help my students live better lives in the U.S. I also was able to see them get excited about obtaining their first driver’s license or finally going to an American college. We became great friends and I still talk with them to this day.
All of this made me fall in love with languages. I realized that interacting with new and diverse people had made my life more exciting, more fulfilling and had given me limitless new opportunities. Now I can’t learn enough about other languages! I have already begun study in Spanish, Russian, French, Amharic and of course Korean!
After learning about several different languages, it became easier to understand how a language works and see similarities between languages. Sometimes, the similarities are really surprising! Because the Korean language evolved from Chinese, they share a lot of words that are only pronounced slightly different. This really helps me remember a lot of Korean vocabulary quickly, but it can also be very confusing.
For example, the Chinese word for “market” is “Shìchǎng” (pronounced with a short “a” sound). The Korean word for “market” is “Shijang”(the j is pronounced almost exactly the same as a ch sound). These two words sound so similar that I understood the word the first time I heard it in Korean. Other words are simply more confusing because they are so similar. The Chinese word for “one” is “Yi” while the Korean word for “two” is also “Yi”. I can’t tell you how many times a Korean has asked me for two things and I mistakenly gave them only one!
Even though Korean evolved through Chinese influence, it shares a lot of similarities with English. Many popular words in Korean like computer, cologne, hot dog, I.D., manicure, quiz, yogurt and even toast are all pronounced the same as they are in English! These are called loan words because they were introduced to the Korean language from English. Can you think of any loan words that we use in English? How about pretzel, tofu, ramen, or even alligator? Do you know where these words came from?
When you look closely at how languages influence each other, it is easy to understand how closely related the world is. Do you remember that I said I felt isolated when I could not speak Chinese in Taiwan? Now that I can speak a little bit of a variety of languages, that isolation has turned into freedom. According to ethnologue.com, over 40% of the world’s population speaks one of only 8 languages. Chinese has highest number of native speakers. That means that just by learning one new language, I have the potential to meet over 1 billion new friends!
Wherever I travel, I always find people who have studied English. However, in the United States, it is sometimes very difficult to find Americans who have seriously learned another language. Why do you think this is? Is this a problem? I have talked about how I use language to create friendships with people from other countries, but how do you think it would benefit us as a country to learn more languages? Do you already speak another language? If not, I hope you will try. It will not only help you with friendships or future jobs, but also with creating an adventurous and diverse life for yourself!