Toh Huong Ngu, from Malaysia, tells us about his experience learning Chinese: “I have become deeply attached to Chinese language. Chinese culture is more than 5000 years old, whereas my love affair with Chinese started only a few years ago. But I will continue to enjoy my love of Chinese for the rest of my life.”
Toh Huong Ngu, New Era University, Malaysia
When I was a child, my father would always teach me to recite poetry. “Mountains cover the white sun / And oceans drain the golden river / But you widen your view three hundred miles / By going up one flight of stairs” is the first poem I learned to recite. Just like what this poem says, one should have an enterprising spirit that drives oneself forward on a path of constant improvement. It was this poem, be it as short as just 20 words, that inspired my interest in learning Chinese.
In my primary school Chinese class, the teacher liked to let us play word snake or word completion games. We would, for example, put other characters before a designated characters to create words with different meanings; thus, the words “ 护士 hùshi” (nurse), “ 兵士 bīngshì” (soldier), and “ 博士 bóshì” (doctor) would be created by putting other characters before the character “ 士 shì”. In the word snake game, you would be given, say, the word “ 吃饭chīfàn” (eat), and be required to start the next word with the character “ 饭 fàn” (meal). Thus, you would have “ 吃饭 chīfàn (eat) – 饭局 fànjú (dinner arrangement) – 局势 júshì (situation) – 势 力 shìli (influence)”, and so on. Such games heightened my interest in learning Chinese.
In secondary school, the teacher would teach us tongue twisters to improve our articulation. I still remember some of them! Let me try it here for you: There are eighty-eight bamboos (eighty-eight zhū zhú) in the yard, eighty-eight spider webs (zhīzhūwǎng) on the bamboos, and eighty-eight pigs (zhū). Eighty-eight children carrying eighty-eight stones scared eighty-eight pigs, who destroyed the eighty-eight spider webs and leveled the eighty-eight bamboos. Interesting tongue twisters like this have revealed to me that Chinese learning can be so lively and so much fun.
These square-shaped Chinese characters are actually formed in interesting ways. Each character has its own story. The meaning of the character “女 nǚ” (woman), for example, can be understood through its resemblance to the profile of an ancient woman in genuflection, which was an ancient symbol of feminine propriety. Fascinating, right?
Because of all these, I have become deeply attached to Chinese language. Chinese culture is more than 5000 years old, whereas my love affair with Chinese started only a few years ago. But I will continue to enjoy my love of Chinese for the rest of my life.
Published in Confucius Institute Magazine
Number 4. Volume IV. September 2009.
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