~ By Mansi Sheth
An aspiring translator, I had wanted to learn Mandarin for the past three years. But I either didn’t have the time to, or the couple of institutes I did call only offered Cantonese. I found out about the Mandarin lessons conducted by Inchin Closer quite by accident.
One Saturday, I was hurrying along to attend an Honours course at my college. I accidentally walked into the wrong classroom, even noticed that the teacher was Chinese, but in my hurried frenzy, asked a lady standing near the door if the film workshop was being held in that room. That lady happened to be Nazia, who despite being thoroughly amused by my scatterbrained-ness, explained to me that she organised the Chinese classes there. Forgetting all about my lecture, I began chatting animatedly about how I’d looked and looked for a course in Chinese without having a single clue that it was right under my nose! But anyway, things fell into place and I began learning Chinese as soon as I was done with my college.
So far, I’ve had five lessons, and I’ve never had to work as hard to keep up with as with this language. Well, except for perhaps with economics, it was never my forte. I speak French and can even understand little bits and pieces of Spanish because of its closeness to French, but Mandarin is a completely different matter altogether. French is easy to learn because the script is the same as English and its grammar is very similar to that of Hindi. This new language, however, has nothing in common with either the Latin- or the Sanskrit- based languages. Hindi is a phonetic language, with each letter being a syllable. Chinese, on the other hand, is a visual language- it even reminded me of ancient runic symbols. The Chinese characters are effectively symbols of what they represent.
For example, the word for ‘good’ is represented by two radicals: ‘Nǔ’ <女>, denoting ‘Mother’ and ‘Zǐ’ <子> meaning ‘child/son’. Combined, we get ‘hǎo’ <好>. At present, most of us in class are relying on our memory to get a grasp over the characters. The diversity of these languages has reiterated my belief in the fact that we don’t merely learn a language, but a culture. Nothing is more cultural than language itself, which is the mode of the very articulation of culture.
In these past five weeks, we’ve learnt and practiced basic greetings and expressions. Roleplay, the phonetic script and a very animated teacher have been essential tools in drilling pronunciations into our heads. Occasionally, the course of the class sees hilarious outcomes of the roleplays- but we’re all beginners after all, so we take it in our stride and have a good laugh.