Date: Tuesday 27th September
I am currently in Rome, sitting in a sub-standard room about 40 minutes from the city centre . My laptop begins to die. It needs life support. I pull out my adapter; its the wrong one. Typical. I realise, I need a three point adapter instead of a two point adapter (turns out there's two kinds of plugs in Italy.) I get up, query the hotel receptionist for the nearest phone shop. He heaves: 'Right, then left, then right.' I take this as 'directions'. I follow his words, repeating them in my brain as I walk and end up in a shop with two shopkeepers from China. Then this happens.
I scan around the shop and I finally find the adapter I need. I head to the counter, pull out my Monzo card, tap, and slip it back into my thief proof body bag. The receipt begins to push itself out of the machine. I'm relieved; my laptop will be okay. Kindly, I ask for a bag in English. Understandably, she is confused - after all, I am not in the UK. I cannot expect everyone to speak English and I try to never assume this (although today, admittedly, I tried my luck.) I scour through the abandoned languages in my mind. French has long gone despite dedicating two weeks of my final year semester in Paris, but Mandarin is still rearing its head through. Uneasily, I say: ‘袋子有吗？’ Meaning: do you have a bag?'
She looks stunned. I smiled. Of course, even I am impressed that Mandarin still exists somewhere in my highly overactive Instagram saturated brain. She asks if I speak Chinese and I say 'a bit' and then go on to say I was an English Teacher in China a few years ago.
Her shoulders relax, she hands me the bag and smiles. I feel reminded of the beautiful province of Guangdong; the dumplings, the '大面‘ or 'Big noodles', a type of street food I would have every evening for dinner before heading down a thin alleyway to enter my studio flat.
Language makes life easier.
I am convinced that learning a language enables us to connect more intimately with the world around us - and whilst I was only asking for a bag in Chinese, whilst on holiday in Rome, we shared something; I shared a part of her culture, to help her understand me, and I am sure she appreciated that.
Using Busuu as my main tool
I get back to my room and I am excited. It has been over 2 years since I've stepped foot in Shenzhen. I re-download my favourite language learning app, Busuu and begin to retain - it feels cathartic, freeing.
I also love VIKI, Pleco and SuperTests; great language Apps.
Will I get a tutor?
I think I will recap for now, and eventually get a teach for one hour, twice a week.
Whats the goal?
To connect. I want to connect with others, deeply. This can only happen first when we understand people - and that first begins with language.
I have found that learning a language really forces you to listen better. The gift of learning a language requires humility to grow and to sacrifice (at times) your speech.
If you can listen, then you can speak
I remember when I was in China as a teaching assistant, one of my co-workers who had 4 years more experience than myself gave me some teaching advice: 'If you can read, then you can write; and if you can listen, then you can speak.' Hoping that I would take this advice and apply it to my classes, I did; but I also incorporated it into my personal learning. I plan on stripping back my voice and listening again. Being intentional to hear sounds and feed my ears (and eyes) with the correct content. I believe this will help me to grow.
I will be documenting my journey on my blog for the next 30 days so check in to see how I am doing!
In the meantime, what skill have you been thinking about picking up? Why not start now?