Ode to the Language Partner

Language Partners Wanted

Learning Chinese language as a hobby started a few years ago (much the same with learning Japanese, most recently Vietnamese and Spanish). In the beginning, the only words I could utter correctly were “Ni hao,” 你好.  The reading and writing and understanding the Hanyu 汉语were good due to my background in Japanese. But I continued to struggle with the Chinese tones. Thankfully, a few associates encouraged and inspired me to learn Mandarin Chinese. I was invited to join their lunch table during our workday lunch hour.  Lunch and conversation (they talked, I listened) was often followed by a stroll near our office building.  For this, I am truly grateful.  Special thanks to Lin Wu, Julia Zhu, Zhimin Liu, Ping Li, and Dr. Jeffrey Zhang. I also offer thanks for my dear friends, Fei Li, and San Wu, owners of the premier and authentic Chinese cuisine near Memphis, The Royal Panda Restaurant in Germantown, Tennessee. I further praise the on-line tutelage and instruction that I continue to receive from Liu Lihong. The success was revealed in my ability to communicate accurately (able to use both spoken and written Chinese) during my recent tours in China (Beijing, Xi’an, Lhasa Tibet, Chongqing, Dazu, and Shanghai).

To learn a foreign language, we must be willing to build relationships.  Maybe it is similar to developing a business partner. In other words, there should be a mutual exchange; therefore, partners. It is difficult sometimes working with people, yes?  Forming this partnership can compare to the business theory of Tuckman’s stages of group development “storming, norming, forming” (see Wikipedia). I believe that the very act of building a relationship (an honest one) involves ebb and flow, pull-and-tug, a struggle.  It eventually requires a commitment but also a kind of submission between participants. This dualism leaves me in a vulnerable state.  When I know vocabulary, can read and write, but unable to form an accurate sentence in the target language, without someone else’s help, this is an uncomfortable feeling. I have resolved that it is OKAY! This is the standard stuff of learning a foreign or second language.

I think this discomfort is one reason learners (especially older students) struggle with acquiring a foreign language. But having a friend, not just any friend, someone to partner with in your language journey will motivate you in your learning efforts. This kind of language partner is a helper. The person could be a native or nonnative teacher or simply someone that you meet by incident.  A language partner can improve the learner’s standing. Explain? Think of it this way, like a business partner, language partners must observe and listen. They are learning, too. Eventually, they will find a comfortable place (within themselves) for not only understanding words; but also, becoming more knowledgeable about the learner and more sociable.  In turn, I seek to do the same, finding comfort zones in learning the language and culture I seek to know. Language partner relationships build foundations to harmonious communications.

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