Relearning a language
Wrestling with inevitable complex emotions
I went to Chinese school for over a decade. It sounds like a lot—and it was—but it was for a few hours on Sundays. Saturdays were partially spent on homework assignments and vocab. If that didn’t happen on Saturday, you would find me simultaneously cramming and eating breakfast at the kitchen table. One of the more difficult parts of learning Chinese is that you can’t fake your way around it. You can’t just “guess” at a word or spell it out. The only way context deduction works is if you know most of the other words in the sentence. And if you don’t? Then you’re shit out of luck.
I learned the Chinese alphabet1 alongside the English alphabet; punctuation and grammar rules in two languages; how to read from left to right on horizontal lines and from right to left on vertical lines; cultural activities like dance right next to the history of the state of Illinois. Sometimes, my tongue got tied up into knots, and it still does on occasion. The hours I spent in and around Chinese school are substantial. And the amount that I don’t remember is a full circle in a Venn diagram.
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