Having grown up in a Chinese family in Australia, I was always immersed in 3 languages. At home, I spoke Cantonese to my grandma, Mandarin to my parents and English at school.
When I was younger, I would mix the languages I were speaking together. The kids at school would laugh at my mishmash speech. I would cry to my parents saying “Why can’t we just speak English at home?”.
My parents would answer back in Chinese, “How will you fully understand the thousands of years of Chinese philosophy, admire the beauty of the language and history if you don’t know Chinese? How will you do business with people in China as it becomes an economic powerhouse? You should be proud to be a mix of cultures so that you can be more understanding of other people.”
I always rolled my eyes at this logical answer but as I grew up, I slowly understood why my parents insisted I speak Chinese at home. I loved the slight nuances in speech and being able to understand Chinese puns and dry humour. I loved how the language made me appreciate Chinese culture, history and food to a different level. I loved going to China and being able to converse with locals and not feel like a complete outsider.
So it was one fateful day, I came across this video.
It’s about 2 friends who travelled to Spain, Portugal, China and Korea knowing none of the language. Their challenge was to see how much of the languages they could pick up within 3 months. However, the catch was – they weren’t allowed to speak any English. No english to each other or to anyone else.
By the end of the 3 months, they were able to get to an intermediate level in all 4 languages. You can watch their videos and read about the full experience .
I never knew someone could learn a language this quickly. Not only that, because they put a time limit, a goal and immersion period, they could challenge themselves to be fully integrated into a different cultural environment.
And if you know me, I love a good challenge.
So finally towards the end of 2018, the stars aligned and I decided 2019 was the year to do it. This past year I had graduated, wrapped up all my projects, had a good 6 years working during university, started a business, worked in corporate and finally I would have the time and freedom to pursuing something that I’ve always wanted to do.
The countries and rough dates I have picked are:
- January – March 2019: Korea
- April – June 2019: Japan
- July – Sept 2019: Spain
- October – Dec 2019: France
As you’ve probably guessed, the 4 languages I’m attempting to learn this year is Korean, Japanese, Spanish and French. I recognise that it’s going to be a tough journey since I’m an absolute beginner in all 4 languages.
Half of me also knows that once I get to a country, I will want to be social and make friends and I know I’ll want to revert back to my comfort zone of finding English speakers but the other half of me really wants to succeed in this challenge.
Currently, I’ve enrolled in Seoul National University for my first 3 weeks starting January 7 and my plan is to go from there! If you have any tips or resources, please share with me as well.
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