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Learning Chinese a life-changing task

Wednesday July 08, 2015 Written by Published in Entertainment
My new party trick, courtesy of the Chinese language course at USP, is giving people my number in Chinese. My new party trick, courtesy of the Chinese language course at USP, is giving people my number in Chinese.

A famous psycholinguist once said that one language sets you in a corridor for life, but two languages open every door along the way.


With a PhD from Harvard University, I think it’s fair to say that Frank Smith knew what he was talking about when he said this.

In fact, opening doors is exactly the reason many Cook Islanders have been sitting in a classroom at USP trying to get a glimpse into the Chinese language.

What better way to open doors, then to learn the tongue of a nation that is rapidly taking over the world, one economy at a time.

In a recent edition of TIME magazine, foreign affairs columnist Ian Bremmer said a rising China has used its development banks to begin to chip away at American dominance in global trade.

Bremmer said as Washington argues with itself, Beijing is forging commercial agreements that enhance China’s ability to shape the next global order.

As a recipient of millions of dollars from China and the Asian Development Bank, it is fair to say that the Cook Islands can relate whole heartedly to Bremmer’s statement.

But this revelation is nothing new, we’ve just been slow to jump on the bandwagon, and slow to realise that the east has been taking back its people for a long time now.

Eight years ago, Ron Crocombe wrote a book called ‘Asia in the Pacific Islands – Replacing the West’, which foretold of today’s investments from Asia.

According to Crocombe, a spectacular transition is underway in the Pacific Islands, as a result of which all our lives will be different.

He wrote that while the original Pacific peoples came from Asia, for most of the past century and earlier, nearly all Pacific Islands nations were colonies of ‘Western’ powers.

“But in the last fifty years or so, Asia has begun to play a bigger and bigger role in all aspects of Islands life... It is replacing the West. The process is irreversible,” Crocombe said.

While 20 or more Cook Islanders have chosen to ride this train to China town and learn the language, it seems there are still many people out there who are wary of China’s investment in our lands.

While I cannot speak to the intention of the Chinese government, I can speak to those who are oh so wary of the unknown.

When I was in High School in New Zealand, I was known for being very anti-China – not the people, just what I perceived to be their culture and penchant for political tyranny.

I was also a big fan of Winston Peters, which speaks volumes about by disdain for China’s influence as Peter’s is well known for the same thing.

So I was iffy when my boss, John Woods suggested I enrol in Chinese language courses and write a weekly diary of my learning.

But, after just three weeks trying to wrap my head around my tongue, I have completely changed my opinion and opened my heart and mind to China, the people and the place.

I said it last week, and I’ll say it again, but it helps to have such a fantastic tutor Aaron Wang who enforces the idea of practise makes perfect and doesn’t let you cower in the corner.

Every lesson has been a stream of new phrases, words and symbols which we are made to say over and over again until we can recall it from our memory, not our books.

Last week we learned how to talk about our families, how many family members we had and who they were, what pets we have and how many, how to say where we come from and where our home is, and one of the most important lessons for a single young gal – how to give someone your phone number.

The past few weeks we have been learning the different parts of a home, and how to say how big or small our house is and what features our house has, like how many bedrooms and bathrooms – because that’s all important stuff right?

Of course, who you are and where you come from is important in Chinese culture, and it’s important to tell someone about yourself before you start asking for money, or at least that’s my reasoning behind our lessons so far.

Especially because this week, we will be learning about money, which is the basis behind signing up for this course in the first place – to earn more of it.

Last week I titled my article ‘the not so easy task of learning Chinese’ and this week, I take it back.

Learning Chinese is easy, if you have a patient teacher, an open mind, and some of that stereotypical Chinese determination.

And no, I still can’t watch those kick ass ninja movies without subtitles, but I’m opening the doors to get me there. 

1 comment

  • Comment Link Padam Lall Maharjan Wednesday, 08 July 2015 17:41 posted by Padam Lall Maharjan

    CONGRATS ! True learning more languages makes life more fun to travel and enjoy more and sure more opportunities in this multilingual world. My mother tongue is Newari, went to school, learnt Nepali and the English. Learnt German in engineering Institute in IIT Madras, learnt Arabic in Yemen, Portuguese in Mozambique, French in Saotome & Pricipe during my work in these countries. Learnt Hindi as I am married to an Indian.

    I am found of the name Cooks Island since long time. I have been to Bermuda & São Tome & Pricipe. They are beautiful. Cooks Island also must be more beautiful still with no pollution and still purity all over. Hope to visit one day.

    Please advise what language is spoken in these islands & which language is most used so that I can try to learn some to make my travel more useful and enjoyable with locals.

    Thanking you for your posting. It is inspiring. It is always good to be multi linguistic. Regards from Padam Lall Maharjan in Abudhabi, UAE, Email : padam132@gmail.com

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