My Experience Learning Chinese
By: Avery White
My name is Avery White and I am in eleventh grade at City Honors School. I have been taking Mandarin Chinese classes since the fall of 2014, when I was in fifth grade. When I stepped into the Chinese classroom for the first time, I was instantly intrigued, and I have really loved learning and practicing Mandarin ever since.
When I was in middle school, I had Chinese class for two days out of a six day cycle. I would always look forward to those days, and to learning something new. One of my favorite activities was when our teacher would give us a poem or song to memorize. There was usually a video to go along with it, and we would practice together as a class. I would be very excited to go home and share or practice the poem with my parents. After practicing for some time, our teacher would have us recite the poem to her one at a time, in order to assess our memorization and speaking skills. Those tasks always gave me a sense of accomplishment. But looking back, as I was practicing, it never felt like work. I thought I was singing a song, and having fun with my classmates. I find this idea of making learning fun and inclusive, to be one of the greatest parts of my experience in Chinese.
In middle school, and now in highschool as well, going to Chinese class has always been a part of my day that I look forward to. My teachers have done an amazing job encouraging all of their students, and introducing new ways to learn. I believe that the variety of methods my middle school teacher chose to use, ultimately led to my decision to continue learning Chinese. When I was in seventh grade, my classmates and I were given the choice to either continue with Chinese or to learn a different language. I chose to stick with Chinese, and this is a decision that I am often questioned about. People often ask “why did you take Chinese?” And the question is usually followed by “isn’t it really difficult?” Over the past few years, my answer has never changed. I like to challenge myself. I believe that my knowledge of the language will enhance my future, and my teachers are incredible at helping me understand. However, the most prominent answer would be the assistance from my teachers. The repetition of their teaching, assessments, and especially character writing homework, really clicked with me. Their lessons are easy to follow, and their constant inclusion of Chinese culture helps me to understand the language even further. I am beyond grateful for the support they have given me, and the numerous opportunities they have provided to me.
Some of the most valuable lessons that I have learned from my teachers are to appreciate the materials and information you are learning, and to always review that information after it is taught. My teacher says 学而不思则罔，思而不学则怠。This translates to “learning without thinking is worthless, thinking without learning is slack”. I think that this saying reflects my particular experience. I have found that if I don’t think about the information that is being given, I don’t understand the concepts, and difficulty is added to the learning process. The same goes for the second half of the saying. If I take the time to think and I don’t learn, then I am not thinking deep enough, and I am only wasting time. My teacher has also reminded us to review after learning. This helps me to further process new materials, and retain them. Whether we are simply learning new words, or reading a dialog, reviewing later makes learning much easier. These sayings and lessons have helped me greatly, especially through the Covid-19 pandemic, and I believe that they will be of great use throughout the rest of my life. Even now, in other subjects, applying these strategies has improved my ability to learn. And further down the road, when I get to college and a career, I know these tools will make learning more effective. The life lessons that I have gained from being in a Chinese classroom are truly one of the aspects of learning the language that I appreciate most.
About two years ago, my current Chinese teacher told our class about a Chinese Bridge Speech Contest. One of my classmates and I were hesitant, but we decided to participate. The belief that my teacher had in me gave me confidence and allowed me to realize that I was capable of succeeding in this challenge. In order to prepare for the competition, I first had to write a brief article, or story, in Chinese about my life and how I use the language. I wrote about my family’s Christmas and the activities that we did each day. Then I had to spend some time memorizing my speech, which was quite difficult, but as time went on and I practiced consistently, it became much easier. I would meet with my teacher, who was extremely patient with me, almost every day before school for about a month, in order to work on my pronunciation and clarity when reading. I also made sure to review my speech after school or whenever else I had the time.
During a week of regents exam testing, I did not have school, but my teacher and I set up a time to meet so that we could continue to perfect my speech. And during the following week, we had two snow days, making it hard to drive around, so we spoke on the phone for about an hour on both days. This time was very useful and helped me to gain confidence in my ability to recite my speech and to answer any questions that the judges would choose to ask me in Chinese.
On the day of the contest, I was very nervous, and I remember barely being able to sleep the night before. When I woke up that morning, I felt as if there were butterflies in my stomach, and when I learned that I was going to be the first one to recite my speech, the feeling became more intense. In my head I was telling myself to pronounce each word correctly, and I tried my very best to do so. But I knew that I had to trust all of my practice and that I would be fine. As I finished answering the judges’ questions, a sense of relief came over me, and I was pleased with the way that I had performed.
I received second place and was then invited to take part in the Chinese New Year celebration at the University at Buffalo the next week. It was exciting to be able to go on the stage with the other participants and be recognized. I was also very amazed and enjoyed watching all of the different dances and acts that had performed that day. Overall, although I was nervous to take part in the competition at first, I am so happy that I did. That experience made me think about my future, and helped me to realize that I am interested in studying Chinese after highschool, and maybe even incorporate it into a career. I hope to visit China one day, and be able to fully embrace and understand the culture, after hearing about many of the customs from my teachers.
Finally, I would like to express how thankful I am for being put in Chinese. If I had not had the opportunity, I may have never considered learning such a unique language. I have had such a positive experience in Chinese because of my teachers and the programs my school has offered. The effort that they put in to spark interest in their students is the reason that I have been successful in understanding these topics. The speaking competition, in particular, allowed me to expand my horizons of the Chinese language, and the culture as well. If my teachers had not pushed me in the ways that they did, I would have never been able to grow as a student. Throughout the next few years, I hope to be able to partake in other events and competitions, and continue to enjoy my time learning Chinese
Avery White is a rising senior at City Honors School in Buffalo, NY. She began learning Mandarin in fifth grade and plans to continue and enhance her studies in college. Avery has participated in events and speech competitions associated with the University at Buffalo Confucius Institute. She hopes to travel to China one day in order to satisfy her curiosity and expand her involvement in the culture.