The Tale of My Chinese Journey
By: Rachel Huang
I started my language journey very young at the age of 6. It started the moment I entered the two front doors of my local Chinese school. Two small but fierce stone lions flanked these doors decorated with lanterns and large red chunlian, making them seem strange and intimidating at first. However, they would eventually become the doors to my second home.
At first, learning Chinese was nothing but fun. My teacher showed us fun cartoons like Monkey King and taught us happy songs such as “Where is Spring?” and “The Two Tigers.” But as time went on, learning Chinese gradually became much harder. Each day we would practice reading texts, taking dictation tests, and presenting in Chinese before the class. I remember getting frustrated at the amount of words we had to memorize and the amount of homework assigned. Thankfully, my teacher never gave up on me and my class, and she drilled the importance of working hard and persevering into us. After the initial waves of hardship, it gradually became easier for me to learn, and I soon developed a deeper appreciation for the Chinese language. I also greatly improved through my growing addiction to Chinese dramas, especially the historical dramas with their beautiful costumes and lavish palaces.
At school, we not only learned the Chinese language, but also about Chinese culture. We took calligraphy lessons, chinese painting, and traditional dance. I fell in love with traditional dance immediately after watching the older girls dance and learning the dance myself. I joined the dance group and had the opportunity to learn a variety of dances, from joyous fan dances and Tibetan dances, to more gentle, elegant long sleeve Han dances. Since I had never learned dance before, I naturally was the stiffest and keeping myself flexible by stretching definitely was painful, but I pushed myself to overcome the discomfort so I could perform to the best of my ability. One thing I looked forward to the most was performing at the annual New Year celebration. Every year, small tent shops would open, selling Chinese takeout, new year clothes, and jade jewelry. At night, the show would start, and various groups including mine, would perform lion dance, folk dance, or martial arts.
I spent a total of 9 years at Chinese school, but these nine years passed by like a blur. At last, my class said our tearful goodbyes during graduation. I felt reluctant to leave this place and the wonderful friendships I made during my childhood, but I knew my Chinese journey would not end. Now that I could speak Chinese, I wanted to use it to help other people. The first time I realized that my Chinese could help others was when I first met a new classmate that had just immigrated from China. She could hardly speak English, except for a few phrases in heavily accented words. Realizing how difficult it was for her to adjust to a completely new environment, I tried my best to help her understand her classes and make her find at least some familiarity in this new place. This experience made me realize how I could help others, so I created a project to bridge the English and Chinese language together. The idea came to me when I was scrolling through Instagram and I thought, people spend so much time on Instagram, why not learn something while they’re at it? So, I started making small posts with Chinese language content, teaching basic things like numbers, making introductions, and easy, common phrases. It was a great success and seeing people comment telling me how helpful it was made me feel warm and happy inside.
Learning Chinese also opened a lot of opportunities for me. My first opportunity came up when I heard of a job opening as a Chinese teacher assistant. I knew immediately that I wanted to do this and applied. The first day, I immediately felt like I was back at my Chinese school. The sound of kids reciting texts together and the sound of chalk against blackboards sent a feeling of nostalgia through me. Teaching Chinese to little kids meant I had to speak very slowly and use exaggerated hand motions to say something like “Do you want to eat some biscuits?” but I felt proud when they managed to understand and enthusiastically answer “woyao!” (Yes, I want!) Overall, it was a meaningful experience and one full of joy.
I never thought speaking Chinese would be such an important skill to have, but it is. Through learning Chinese, I have met so many amazing people, learned a whole other culture, and gotten so many more opportunities. Even during social distancing, I still haven’t stopped using my Chinese. Now, I help translate and subtitle for one of my favorite Chinese Youtubers and also some online Chinese dramas. I still have a long future ahead of me, so I know I’ll be able to use Chinese in many ways. My dream is to become a pediatrician, so hopefully I’ll be able to use my Chinese to help future patients and their families eliminate language barriers and more!
Rachel Huang is a rising senior at Punahou School in Hawai’i. She is a violinist in her school’s orchestra and an editor for her school’s yearbook. In her free time, she enjoys sewing, playing the piano, and watching Chinese dramas. While Rachel is also learning Spanish and Korean, Chinese is the language she is most proficient at. She started learning Chinese at the age of 6 at a local Chinese school, and has continued to expand her Chinese knowledge as well as help others along their journey. One of the projects she has been working on is an educational Instagram account where she creates and posts mini Chinese lessons. In the future, Rachel hopes to study abroad during college in China to get a feel of what it’s like to live there and learn more about Chinese culture.