“If you talk to a man in a language he understands, that goes to his head. If you talk to him in his language that goes to his heart.”
― Nelson Mandela
Did you know that 12.44% of the world’s population speaks Mandarin as their first language? We all recognize the importance of language in communications and interactions in our everyday lives and learning a new language today is synonymous with acquiring a vital skill that can take you places. Coming from India, the land of 1600 spoken languages and 22 official languages, holding 4-5 languages in your repertoire is not considered to be very impressive. Personally, I speak 5 different languages mostly from the Indo-European family including that of English and Hindi. However, the rest are local and hardly rewarding once I am out of India. Also, based on my client experiences in working for a Multi-National, I did realize the significance of Romance languages and Sino-Tibetan languages in professional life. I joined the University of Illinois in fall 2015 for a Master’s program under the college of business and I knew I had the opportunity to fulfill my wish as U of I hosts a massive number of internationals and with an extremely diverse student body. However, being a Grad student for a super hectic fast track business program, taking up a language course was next to impossible. I am sure I could relate to many people not just in the University but also outside, as we are not only constrained by resources but also time.
Here comes the first week of April, celebrated as the International Week at the University of Illinois encompassing several cultural, educational and recreational events to further stimulate the interest of the Global Community. I happen to stumble upon an event called the ‘Taste of Language’ as part of the international week. I knew I had hit the nail right on the head as I read through the description of this event. It was meant as an introduction to 2 new languages over a short period of 2 hours. This was ideal for me to spark interest in 2 new languages over a short period of time just like killing two birds with one stone. The event has Native speakers of 10 different languages teaching 25-minute mini courses. Participants could choose from the following languages: Dine, Haitian Creole, Hebrew, Japanese, Korean, Mandarin, Persian, Portuguese, Sign Language, and Zulu. I was spoilt for choices with a variety of languages to learn from, albeit it was imperative for me to make my mind on two most important languages. I decided to go with Mandarin for a simple reason that it is the most widely spoken language in the world, apart from the fact that I had a huge number of Chinese and Taiwanese friends in the University. Another language that piqued my interest was Portuguese which has a historical significance in India. Portuguese ruled a part of India called Goa for about 500 years and even today, it is widely spoken in the same region. Growing up in Mumbai, India, I had many friends from the region of Goa who spoke Portuguese. Thus learning Portuguese has always been on my bucket list.
The ‘Taste of Language’ event was conducted in the University YMCA Latzer Hall with separate sections for each language. Each section had its own tables and chairs and a drawing board. The event Kicked-off with a few light refreshments as we went around the hall, interacting with the instructors and acquainting ourselves with the different languages. The first half of the training for me was Portuguese taught by a Brazilian instructor who happens to be a popular Portuguese teacher on campus. Prior to beginning the class, she illustrated the origins of Portuguese in Brazil and the different variations that transpired in Portuguese across different parts of the world, also adding to our curiosity. She began with basic greetings in Portuguese and also the numbers from 1 to 10. Also to make it interactive, the instructor used placards and drawings for visual aid. Gradually she transitioned to explaining different hobbies and also grammar describing the minute differences between the tenses. It seemed overwhelming at the beginning, however with visual aids and also participating in different games, eased the whole process of learning a complex language in a short period of time. I certainly did not expect to Ace the language in one go, as that was not pragmatic and also not the purpose of the event. However by the end of the class, I could manage to speak a couple of sentences like the following ‘Eu gusto de comer Pizza’ which simply translates to ‘I like to eat Pizza’. This was beyond my expectation as I certainly did not anticipate learning so much in about half an hour. The second half of the Event for me was Mandarin, wherein the instructor introduced the basic greetings and also to speak introductory sentences. The part that intrigued me the most was when the Mandarin instructor introduced us to basic sounds and alphabets that made pronouncing the words easier. Pronunciation was key to speaking most of the words and sentences, as it was significantly different than the Standard English Language. She also laid significant emphasis on the roots of each word that allowed us to grasp the language effortlessly. Thanks to ‘Taste of Language’, I can now not only interpret greetings but also greet a person in Mandarin. Now, I am also aware that ‘Ni chi le ma’ which means ‘have you eaten’ is a common greeting in Chinese culture.
In conclusion, the event ‘Taste of Language’ provides you much more than just the taste of the language. The enthusiasm of not just the instructors but also the participants in learning the language made the event fun and interesting. Apart from gaining an introduction to the languages, you also comprehend the basic cultural significances of the particular languages and you are left asking for more!