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To Sir with Love

  • Sep 13, 2010
Learning English may be as simple as ABC for most of the people here on Lunch.com, but it was quite the “Silk Road” for me. I didn’t speak a word of English until I was in Primary 5 (form 5 in America context). Having said that, English is not a difficult language, at least to speak it, isn’t. To master it, well, that’s another dimension altogether. For most foreigners, especially Asians, English is quite simple. Simpler than Chinese, Japanese or/and Korean. That’s from my perspective, naturally. Having said that, many Chinese in China find English extremely difficult, for some strange reasons still unbeknownst to me.  I know of a professor (middle age) who admitted that to his class. So, if it’s that difficult for an intelligent man to grasp, then you can imagine how difficult it is for those on the streets!
Now, having stayed in Canada for 3 years and also China for the same period of time, I’d say English is a lot easier to speak and learn (or even master) than Chinese. Ask any foreigners in China, they’d agree with me fully. 26 alphabets, that’s all. How difficult is that, right? In comparison, the Chinese language demands individuals to learn word by word, through stroke by stroke, and to write them differently even if they phonetically sounded the same; it all depends mostly on the context. In general, that applies to almost every single word in the Chinese language while in the English language, one simply has the exceptions to the rule.  Not to mention the tedious task of learning to write each word singly over and over again! It’s a drag!!!

As for my personal experience, I didn’t like English that much to begin with. I remembered when I first arrived in Singapore, I had to learn both English and Chinese to begin with. I had learned some basic stuff but those were simply irrelevant. I must admit I didn’t begin to pick up these two languages (simultaneously) until I’m in my youth. Boy, they were both as difficult, considering I never did take my studies seriously. But, at that age, one begins to have interest in romance. And, luckily for me, I picked up novels which helped me in my languages. Strangely enough, I read a lot of Chinese books back then. I didn’t read English romances until I was in Canada. Perhaps because they are a tad more expensive, I don’t recall the reason why. But that’s the way it had been. I did however, read lots of Nancy Drews’ novels :-)

My English didn’t improve leaps and bounds until Canada, that is. And the way to do that was to major in Psychology. That’s one of my 3 majors. Psychology amounts to lots of allocated readings but since the subject matter is of interest to me, I didn’t mind checking up dictionary! And from then on, my preferential language is English.
Well, there goes my path in learning these foreign languages. Strangely enough, I now write English better than any other languages. Partly because it’s the least difficult and partly because I normally take the path of least resistance, I suppose. Since the time has come to applying rather than learning, I found another interesting dimension to the spoken language.

For those many years of my working life, I spoke and wrote mainly English. But in the last few years, I moved to Beijing, then Shanghai, then Shenzhen.  I observed a strange incident, the first 3 months when I was in Beijing, I hardly spoke English. And within 3 months, all of a sudden, I’m cursing someone in my mind in Mandarin!!! Yep, I did that. Imagine my surprise! That’s when I finally know what it meant, that your environment will change you in ways you’ve no control of. I spoke decades of English, but a mere 3 months, changed “life” as I knew it!

I’ve thought about this and another observation I came to conclude was one do have a love language.
For example, how naturally you say “I love you” in a specific language. That would be what I termed as my love language.  In which language would you say that to people you love? Ask yourself that question especially if you’re proficient in different languages. Which one seems natural to you? I speak Mandarin and 4 Chinese dialects, yet I find it extremely hard to say “I love you” in those languages. Strange, isn’t it? Naturally, it depends on who you speak them to as well. But, think of children, if you say that to kids (I find it especially easy to love children, don’t you think so?), which language would you prefer to say them in?

A language is meant to convey ideas and the mind, yet, if the most important sentence we have to say in our lives, ie. “I love You”, is difficult for one to utter in one language over another, would that be deemed as a handicap in life? We know that we may also be “handicap” in some ways if we are not proficient in languages. For one, it’s hard to be working in advertising, marketing or sales if you don’t speak well. For another, you can definitely not be a presidential candidate. So, our degree of effecting changes depend a large part on our use of languages too. It makes me realized how little we thought about something that is of utmost importance… the language we speak define who we are essentially. We took it (or them) for granted. It’s a mere tool to most of us. Yet, it is one of the greatest tool a human is endowed with, don’t you agree?
To Sir with Love To Sir with Love

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August 03, 2011
English can take many years to master . The Chinese alphabet looks very complex .
July 13, 2011
I've heard that English is among the hardest languages to learn if you don't grow up with it. Old Anglo-Saxon originally sounded more like German up until just about everybody in Europe invaded the British Isles and added their own linguistic subtleties making it probably the most inductive language in the world.
December 21, 2010
Very interesting review, Sharrie! I didn't learn how to speak English until I was 14. I spent all the years of my childhood learning how to speak it. Writing...ah...that was much simpler.
December 21, 2010
?!?!?! Where were you before that?
December 21, 2010
I was in California. I just didn't speak to anyone...I tried with my family, but they couldn't understand me. I had a really severe speech impediment. The only person who heard me speak on a regular basis was my speech therapist. When I entered high school, I went crazy with the ability to talk. I've never slowed down since that time.
December 21, 2010
I c! It's a case of making up for loss time eh?! Good for you! I never did have that problem though; I was so chatty that if I were to be silent for a number of days, it can be scary to many, LOL!
December 21, 2010
Yup. (laughs)
September 17, 2010
What an excellent review; your insights into the learning process are very interesting. I admire anyone who can learn English as a second language. As an ESL tutor, I'm constantly amazed at how difficult it is.
September 19, 2010
Thanks for your generous comment. It is not too tough to learn English if one is in the right environment. Generally, with languages, one does need to be living in a country that speaks that particular. I took Japanese in University, that would have been my 4th language. Not only is it a tough language, the lack of practice also means that I could never master it unless one day I move to live in Japan! All those short trips to Japan doesn't help much :-(
September 16, 2010
Check out my recent review of "Dreaming in Hindi," about an American learning that language in India. It discusses Second Language Acquisition, especially among adults, and how one processes a second script that differs from an alphabet. Thanks for your review of our shared language. As a learner of a third language in middle-age, I find it gets tougher now than I guess it would have been as a child! I never find languages easy, but I love words themselves.
September 19, 2010
It's a lot easier as a child. I learned the few languages as a teenager but Japanese when in University. It's a tough language plus as one ages, it's a lot difficult to acquire another new language. Practice is the key but I do believe spending a few years in the country would have helped a great deal :-)
September 16, 2010
I didn't learn English till I was in elementary school, but I was pretty young, so I barely remember the transition! I would imagine that learning English as an adult is much easier than learning, say, Chinese. I've taken several other language classes before and English seems so much simpler, and not just because I've been speaking it for so long, but because there's no masculine or feminine, or hiragana vs. katakana vs romaji, etc, etc. Just 26 simple building blocks with a few formulas :) Great review, Sharrie!
September 19, 2010
The easiest way to learning any language is to live in that country. If you plan to learn Spanish, you could get yourself a Spaniard boyfriend, LOL...
July 04, 2012
I agree. You need to hear the language constantly. I took 4 years of Spanish in high school. I still listen to channels 41, 47 and 68 where Spanish is spoken. Occasionally, I read articles from the El Diario to practice the language.
September 13, 2010
wwhoooaaa....what an entertaining write up! ah-wuv-vu. (that's how the women I date say it to me :) LOL!
September 14, 2010
And when do they say that exactly? ;-)
September 14, 2010
you even have to ask? ;)
September 16, 2010
LOL, you two crack me up! ;P
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Sharrie ()
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I'm a traveler at heart & have been nicknamed Travel Queen by friends & colleagues alike. Traveling has been my life passion for the last decade or so. As we enter a new decade, I'm excited … more
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English is a West Germanic language that arose in the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms of England and spread into what was to become south-east Scotland under the influence of the Anglian medieval kingdom of Northumbria. Following the economic, political, military, scientific, cultural, and colonial influence of Great Britain and the United Kingdom from the 18th century, via the British Empire, and of the United States since the mid-20th century,  it has been widely dispersed around the world, become the leading language of international discourse, and has acquired use as lingua franca in many regions. It is widely learned as a second language and used as an official language of the European Union and many Commonwealth countries, as well as in many world organisations. It is the third most natively spoken language in the world, after Mandarin Chinese and Spanish.

Historically, English originated from the fusion of languages and dialects, now collectively termed Old English, which were brought to the eastern coast of Great Britain by Germanic (Anglo-Saxon) settlers beginning in the 5th century – with the word "English" being derived from the name of the Angles. A significant number of English words are constructed based on roots from Latin, because Latin in some form was the lingua franca of the Christian Church and of European intellectual life. The language was further influenced by the Old Norse language with Viking invasions in the 8th and 9th ...

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"To Sir with Love"
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