I have always had a fascination for languages, and especially, coming from a country like India with 22 scheduled languages and more than a hundred dialects, languages have always baffled me. Also I read somewhere that learning a new language makes the brain sharper – hence, I always have the desire to learn more languages, to add to my mother tongue Hindi and English. While I managed to learn the basics of Sanskrit at school and found ample resources to learn French and German online, there was one language that I wanted to learn desperately – Chinese! It seemed so challenging and very different from the other languages I know.
I resorted to the internet – hunted for online lessons, searched for Chinese tutors in my hometown (who did not even exist) but nothing – I had to accept I would not be able to learn Chinese. I just could not decipher all was written, how would I differentiate between the different tones – I had no idea what was going on!
Months passed by, and I came to Durham University. Scrolling through my Facebook news feed one afternoon, I came across a page ‘Durham University Chinese Training’. It said that they intended to organise weekly classes in Mandarin at the University itself. And it was free! By that time, though, the flame of passion for Chinese that once burnt inside me had cooled down – still I signed up!
My tryst with Mandarin began the next Wednesday at 2.00 pm. And the first few minutes of the class were enough to convince me that I had taken the right decision! It was a really small group – some 10 or 12 students – and two tutors, who themselves are Durham University students! The first few classes were taken by Yue Liu, pursuing MSc Accounting, who is originally from Taiyuan, Shanxi Province, China and Zihui Zhu, another MSc Accounting Student from Zheijiang Province, China.
The tutors were selected after an interview process by the Chinese Scholars and Student Association who took this initiative to promote the vibrant Chinese culture among other students at the University. We started our lessons with learning how to meet and greet people in Chinese, gradually moving on to learning Pinyin – the pronunciation of letters and the basis of speaking Chinese.
Weeks passed by and we moved further with our Pinyin lessons. In the second term, came our new tutor named Wei Wang, an exchange student originally from Beijing pursuing Bachelor of Economics at the Peking University in China, who guided us with Pinyin and introduced new words and the toughest part – writing, which I felt I could never learn!
It was indeed a pleasure studying a totally alien language from the students themselves. What impressed me the most was the dedication with which the tutors taught us, excellent study material, the fun we had while learning and of course – how cost effective it was! All I needed was an hour from my busy week and the patience and dedication needed to learn a difficult language like this. Honestly, never did I imagine that I would have an opportunity to learn Chinese without spending any money and with so much support, encouragement and patience from tutors, who themselves are students struggling with their own deadlines and academic pressures.
I must admit, I cannot be fluent at a new language in a span of just one year, however becoming thorough with the fundamentals of the language has made me confident enough that I can now learn further myself.
Being a part of this programme, I not only learnt a new language, but also learnt the values of patience, dedication and commitment from the three tutors who deserve utmost commendation for their efforts to teach others amidst their hectic schedules without any monetary gains and most importantly, I love how the University gives its students ample opportunities to promote diverse cultures and different interests and let people from diametrically different cultures with one common interest mingle and make it happen!
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