Obies Using Languages: Mo Chen ’18

Mo is a sophomore majoring in Art History and may concentrate her study on curatorial art. She is planning to study away in Europe next year so she is learning both French and German.  

Before my acquisition with English, I spoke Chinese, Cantonese and the Teochew dialect. I did not remember which language I learned first but as far as I could recall from my childhood, I already spoke these languages.  They were completely different in tones, pronunciation and grammar. I remembered how I switched the mode of language under different environments. I spoke to my father in Cantonese and to my mother in Mandarin and Teochew dialect. The switch of languages was so smooth that I was unaware of the difference in expressions. I did not encounter the trouble of acquiring multiple languages at the same time until my study of both German and French this summer.

I started my bilingual study when I went to summer school in Berlin. Prior to my trip, I knew nothing about German. I had spent my first half of summer time on learning French. When I first entered the continent of Germany, I was estranged from any language I knew. I did not even know the basic Germans like thank you. The first German word I learned, from the direction in the airport, was “Ausgang”, meaning exit in English. During my time in Berlin, I went to German classes every other day and continued my French learning in the evening. Everything seemed to follow a well pattern and I was content with the routine of learning.

After a month of study in German I travelled to Paris. Even though I could already speak a little bit of French, my tongue was way too influenced by German that I spoke out German without control. One day I went to a restaurant with my friend and I told the waiter that we had two people. When the waiter confirmed the number with me, I responded quickly with ja rather than oui. It was from that time I felt the pressure of adapting my tongue into different languages. Despite my awareness of speaking certain words, my nerves responded more quickly than my mind did.

The experience of bilingual study became harder this semester because of the increase of intensity in learning. I registered both in German and in French courses. People reacted in surprise when they heard my decision and claimed that it would be difficult. And it was! Even though these two languages were distinguished from origins, they were hardly distinctive to me. As for me, they are merely exotic because they were not identical to my mother languages. What it invariably  happened was that when I am writing a French essay, a number of German words came up into my mind. For instance, I wanted to write the word swim whereas the word schwimmen appeared before I could recall the word nager. My study of these languages continued in my constant struggle between them. However, by now I am able to handle them better because I learn more and practice more. I watch French films and German TV series in my spare time so as to get familiar with their tone. German is more absolute in its pronunciation while French is more noticeable in liaison.

The process of learning new languages is always strenuous, especially with two languages at the same time. Nonetheless, I enjoy this challenge as it enables me to explore the beauty of various languages. Besides, the more I learn about foreign languages, the more I cherish my mother languages because I know how hard it is to acquire a language. I do not know to what extend my learning of French and German would be but I am sure that it is always good to learn more.



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