Incomprehensible jargon. That was what I was experiencing at the age of six when I first remembered talking to my grandparents. At most, I could only interpret bits and pieces of my grandmother’s Chinese. These were the conversations that I found myself in whenever I traveled to Taiwan to see my grandparents. Yet, once I arrived, I felt left out, no matter how much I looked like the people around me, there was a barrier, for I couldn’t interact with anyone. As my grandparents would ask me questions, I would feel; helpless as I stared at their earnest face.
That was what drove me to learn the Chinese language as this has been my ancestors’ native tongue for many generations. So began my journey to understand this complex language as I sat down with my mother during the weekend to learn the basics of the language. It started off with the thirty five sounds that formed the basic sounding of the language. After a month, came the challenging part of the language: the memorization of the thousands of characters that still daunts many people today who try to learn this language.
At first, this was impossible for me as it was entirely different from the English language where letters are formed into words while in Chinese, there is only one set character that depicts one certain word down. Slowly, I understood and pieced together the language until I had mastered over one hundred of the most basic Chinese characters. As a result of this, when I traveled back to see my grandparents, I was able to start up my first true conversation with them. I still remember their faces when they were both surprised and pleased to know that they could finally connect with me, even thought there were some holes in the conversation. Now with this new language, I was able to hear many stores fro my grandparents that they seemed overjoyed to tell me as I too came to enjoy them. These stories included naval battles that my grandfather told me when he fought in WWII to the times of my parents’ childhoods with my father going out with friends to play baseball with gloves made of newspapers to incidents with my mother who supposedly rode into a ditch on her bike during the middle of the night.
Now that I am in my teens, I often look back at the first scene and often fell embarrassed and sometimes ashamed that I didn’t learn Chinese sooner. To add on, I often see other peers around my age feeling the same barrier for that can not interact with their family members due to the lack of cultural interest. So, to keep this my goal, I have studied many Chinese classics and memorized an extensive amount of my family tree. But ultimately, I hope to one day pas this down to my children and at the same time, teach that heritage is not only what makes an individual unique but is the most important part of every person’s identity.
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