April 4, 2012

China Institute - Annie N.

I make up one of the more than 57,715 Chinese adoptees in our world today. My adoption from Hefei, Anhui, China at the age of five and a half months has always and will always be a part of me. Although from a young age, my mother always impressed upon me the importance of being familiar with my birth country, it wasn’t until I met Emily Yu or (Chinese) the summer before my second year of high school that I felt the personal push to master Mandarin.
Emily moved to my small town of Maplewood from the bustling city of Beijing with her mother, to live with her mother’s boyfriend, who just happened to attend the same church as my family. During our first encounter, we exchanged a series of fractured conversations; me trying to use the one year of Chinese I knew, and her trying to use the 7 years of English she had learned in school. When we talked about our age, we realized we were born only 6 days apart. To me, this had profound meaning. This meant that her parents had lived through the same One Child Policy just as my own had, but her’s had the fortune and prosperity to be able to keep their daughter while mine did not.
As I further got to spend time with Emily and her mother, I got to see the Chinese language used more than I ever had before. Finding native Mandarin speakers in my town is as hard as finding the needle in the haystack. Something so simple as just witnessing the dynamics of a Chinese conversation between mother and daughter made me think of conversations I could have had with my own birth mother. Seeing an example of a girl who had stayed with her birth parents made me wonder what my own life would have been if that had been me. I realized that if I didn’t choose to learn Chinese, there would always be a part missing from me. I already wasn’t experiencing life in China, but I wasn’t going to miss the chance to experience the language of the country that gave me life. When her mother suggested a language study in China, I leaped at the thought.
One of my biggest challenges in learning Chinese is being able to master and be able to recall the Chinese characters. Since my class is taught through the computer, all of our homework is typed and then submitted. It is through my own discipline and desire to learn that I am able to write characters. It wasn’t until this year, my third year of learning, that even reading Chinese characters was required. Up to then I was relying on reading and writing PinYin. In fact, my first exposure to actually being required to read and comprehend Hanzi was when I went to Beijing last summer with China Institute on a Language Immersion Program. All my other classmates had the ability to read them and I didn’t. At first it was a struggle for me to catch up with my classmates in their abilities, but after only a week I was up to where they were in character knowledge. If I hadn’t gone I don’t think I would have been able to master them as quickly as I did and be where I am today.
The amount of knowledge I acquired in just one month is just mind boggling. But I look forward to the fact that this is just the beginning for me. This summer I hope to have the chance to return to China and continue my adventure of mastering the language. From my past experience in China, I have learned that the best way to become fluent in a language is to immerse yourself in the language; so that’s what I will do. I will interact with people, learn the culture and speak the language. Anything to be able to become fluent in the language of the country that gave me life.

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