Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Simple "Hello"

Did you know that there are somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 languages in the world?  That means there are somewhere between 4,999 and 9,999 groups of people in the world that I can't really communicate with.  I find this bothersome.  Sure, I can say "hello" in quite a few languages, but "hello" won't get you to the Eiffel Tower when you're stranded in mid Paris because you lost your tour group and you can't find a Taxi driver who speaks (or is willing to acknowledge that he speaks) English.  Neither will "hello" get you a good price on a pearl necklace at a Shanghai street market.  You have to speak enough Chinese to haggle a little - trust me, I've been there.  "Hello" can certainly move you from "stranger" to "friendly face" in the eyes of a new acquaintance, and there is certainly something to be said for greetings in general, but if we really intend to communicate in depth with a person, it takes much, much more than a simple "hello".  That's what this blog is about.  This blog is about going beyond simple greetings and learning to realize true connections with other human beings from other cultures.  This blog is an experiment, of sorts, as I seek to teach myself how to communicate sans English though, perhaps, I may humiliate myself in the process (which, if I'm lucky, will just make for better reading).

There are millions of people in the world who speak more than one language.  In countries like Canada, children are often taught multiple languages from a young age, which better prepares them to be global citizens.  In the United States we treat foreign language learning differently.  Yes, foreign language classes are the norm in high schools across the country, but there are plenty of adults whose high school Spanish classes didn't stick.  In an age where "living globally" is becoming a trend of blitzkrieg proportions, it seems that being a "polyglot" ought to be held in higher regard.  The truth, however, is that as Americans we often find ourselves too busy with our fast paced, American dream style lives to sit ourselves down and learn another language.  I've been in love with foreign languages for years, yet I still go months without improving my Chinese or Spanish skills.  It seems that, for now, life has gotten the better of me, but no more.  There's always time for a new adventure, and the time for me is now.  My Chinese has floated along at mediocre for long enough, and there are still too many people out there to whom I can't even speak that basic, just enough, "hello".

My mission here is simple:  to chronicle for you one woman's quest to communicate.  To share with you my struggles to learn Chinese and perhaps a few tidbits of other languages as well - just to keep things interesting. Hopefully there are others out there in the big world of blogging who share my passion for languages and who can also relate to my struggles in finding the time to learn them.  I hope to share my journey in a way that will allow my readers to learn along with me.  After all, and certainly to my benefit, there's something to be said for learning by teaching.   I do fear nonetheless that a more accurate description of what lies ahead might be found in the phrase "those who can't do, teach".  Time will tell...

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