I had originally hoped to learn Cook Islands Maori, but as no courses were available at USP at the time, I chose Chinese.
However, I have to admit, it took me a long time to feel comfortable with the language.
I started the class late, so when my classmates were able to rattle off words in Chinese with apparent ease, I felt somewhat inferior with my obvious lack of fluency
My natural reaction was to answer in English, the language I’ve spoken my whole life, so I had to adjust to a foreign one that relied on symbols and intonation.
But just like riding a bike, the more classes I attended the more of a buzz I got out of it.
Every word I could read or recognise was progress, and I actually got excited at the prospect of going to my classes as I was eager to learn more.
By the time the exam rolled around, I was incredibly nervous, but I was able to recognise words to such a degree that I scored a mark I never would have imagined I could achieve back at the beginning of the course.
For that I owe a big thanks to my teacher Xiaoning Lu, who would come in on Saturday mornings to help me catch up, and to Hongfei Li, who was always ready to help.
I have noticed that since I started the class that people sometimes treat me as though I was a monkey and ask me to say something in Chinese, like it’s a trick (something I’m sure the bi/multi-lingual have endured for a long time).
But it wasn’t until the graduation ceremony on Friday a couple of weeks ago that I actually spoke the language at length to people who weren’t in my classroom.
Although it was a daunting task reading in front of people at a much higher level of proficiency than me, there was a sense of kinship as it felt like they had all been in my position before, and could relate to my nervousness.
And as the rest of the graduates spoke, hearing how they had used the language in situations overseas or had passed their knowledge down to family members, made me realise how important language is and how unifying it can be.
It brings people together, especially when it is spoken in what feels like a small community, and I aim to continue my learning next year.
After all, language is life.