You learn Mandarin…. Is easy!

I’m 7,000 ft up in Colorado Springs shaping my mouth to look like I’m sucking on a lollipop trying to make an “shing” sound in the middle of a word that requires me to also buzz like a bee and I realize… I’m speaking Mandarin!

My language helper points to a picture of a bicycle and without thinking say, “zzzz shing shuah”. She asks me, in Mandarin, “where did you go?” and I immediately respond ” wah hoi tchia” (I returned home). Holy crap! Did I just say that?!?!

We decided to go to this language school to be able to learn the tools to learn language. We are moving to a country that we could easily speak English in and get around, but we want to learn the Acholi tribes “heart language”.

Now, to be honest, I’ve been using the word “heart language” a bit flippantly. It’s a Christian word that basically means your “mother tongue”, which is the language you can relate the most in. I knew I wanted to learn the tribal language, because it would be cool to learn and they would understand me better…. but then I met Yanna.

Yanna is my language helper. She is helping me learn the methods of language learning by trying her language, Mandarin. Yanna is a mother, moved here from China and completely adorable.

Day 1 of lessons: anytime I would repeat anything she would say, “You got it! See… Mandarin is easy!”. She knows that Mandarin is feared for being one of the hardest languages to learn, but she was practically bursting to have us enjoy it.

Yanna wanted us to learn Mandarin. Not because she wanted me to be comfortable with a method, but because she wanted me to know her. Who she is, her experiences, her culture is wrapped into her language. Understanding her language means that I understand her.

That I get her.

I’m staring to understand why French freak out when you visit their country and didn’t learn any French. To them it feels like a slap in the face, that you couldn’t be bothered to learn even a part of who they are. They know their language is tied into every part of them. (I know some Americans who feel this way about english, though they don’t say it very elegantly)

So, in the middle of school, I feel like my motives have changed. I still want to learn Acholi, but not just so I can share with them about me. I want to learn their language so that I can know them; who they are, their culture, their history, their jokes, their heart and hopefully…. be able to share my own heart as well.

P.S. for any of my friends that actually know how to read Mandarin…. I know this is not how you do it.


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