My favorite part of language learning is discovering how the language can reflect the native culture. A major reason I decided to study Chinese is because it is an intriguing and surprising, albeit complex, language; much like its native culture. Each character has its own history, meanings, pronunciations and associations with other characters, and paying attention to them has made my learning experience a lot more fruitful, easier and interesting. I always try and pay attention to radicals (the different parts within characters that hold their own meaning) when learning new words and the meaning behind them. It has helped me memorize some tricky phrases and guess at characters I’ve never seen before. [Other examples: turkey (fire chicken), hello (you good), understand (brightly white), know somebody (recognize know), everyone (big family), computer (electronic brain), cell phone (hand machine), apple (duckweed fruit), worry (burden heart) and satisfied (fill purpose).]
Also, Chinese grammar is more simplified and minimal compared to Latin-based languages like English; there are no past, present or future tenses and connecting words like “is” are often left out. For example, one of my most common breakfasts in Shanghai was a crab rice ball (seaweed-wrapped rice with filling in the middle) from the Family Mart corner store. At checkout, I would ask the tellers to “加热”, or “heat it up” in the microwave. “加热” literally means “add heat”. So there is a reason why the stereotypical “Chinese English accent” is void of connecting words: they don’t exist in their native tongue! This mindset of simple, straightforward, direct language is connected to how the message is important and not necessarily the fluff that surrounds it. I’ve found Chinese natives to usually be straightforward and direct in how they act and speak; especially the 阿姨 (aunties) and 叔叔 (uncles)!
Mandarin Chinese also holds heavy emphasis on respect, much of which finds its roots in Confucian thought of filial piety and valuing community. A commonly-used phrase of mine came to be “不好意思,” which is used as a soft apology (i.e. my Chinese is not that good, accidentally running into someone). Breaking it down, it means “No good interesting/meaning” but translates to a humble sort of “I’m embarrassed.” It’s become a reflex; I’ve caught myself using back in the States! The basic expression of gratitude, 谢谢, is a repeated statement of thanks, because 谢 (thank) is said twice. It’s simple things like this that make me fall in love with China, Chinese and Chinese people all the more.
The term that’s hit me most recently is 再见, or “goodbye.” No one likes to say goodbye; I know people who will purposely leave without doing so because it makes them so sad. But in Chinese there isn’t a literal “goodbye”. When translated literally, the common farewell term ”再见” means “take care and see you later.” When my friends and I said “再见” at our departures, it became a sort of promise that we’ll see one another again; or at the very least won’t forget one another. I’m not saying “goodbye”; I’m saying “until next time!” Whether through missions, study, work, touring or visiting friends, I believe I’ll make it back to China. And many of my friends and back in the States with me, which is much closer and easier than seeing China again! I’ve no doubt that I’ll see them again. So, 再见, Kati! 再见, Spring! 再见, Luke! 再见 Kayla! 再见, Alvin! 再见, Shanghai! I’ll see y’all soon~~~dd
Chinese vocabulary: 新年快乐! xīnniánkuàilè Happy New Year!
福寿双全! fúshòushuāngquán Enjoy both happiness and longevity!