Never Too Late: Learning New Languages

Senior Rebecca Chapman shares her experiences trying to learn both ASL and Mandarin.

Americans are notorious for knowing only one language; only 20% of Americans are bilingual compared to a 56% of Europeans. To know more than a single language opens many possibilities socially and culturally, and I am determined to discover these possibilities.

Jan. 8, 2018

School was canceled today. The power went out and upon looking for some non-electronic entertainment I found my father’s old sign language (ASL) books! I read the first chapter, learning about things such as pronouns and male and female words. Male words are signed near the forehead while female words are signed near the chin. The power came back on, but I kept reading through the first chapter. I’ve taught myself the alphabet and familial titles.

Jan. 9, 2018

Went over the second chapter. Practicing the alphabet. Considering other languages. I bet it’s kind of amusing to see me sign, because, due to some genetic thing in my family, my hands shake a lot. Like when I see my aunt trying to pour her glass of champagne! Her hands shake so much I’m often scared that the champagne is going to be on the floor all the way from the kitchen to the living room.

Jan. 10, 2018

By now I’ve gone through the first three chapters. I have started to slow down because the food chapter seems somewhat monotonous, but I’m learning a page or two today. I’ve gone over the first two chapters a few times, to see if I can memorize them. So far so good.

To graduate high school you have to have two years of a language, but what if you don’t want to learn it, or the process becomes a negative experience? It will never stick. I can’t remember much French at all, except for “Bonjour” and “Je ne comprends pas”. To learn a language you have to be motivated to learn it. Motivation is sometimes hard to come by, and when it comes it’s like you can do or learn anything. It’s incredibly inspiring.

Also, my sister likes to curse me out in Spanish. She thinks I don’t know the curses.

Jan. 11, 2018

Home sick today. Took some time and spelled entire passages in sign language. I’m starting to sign letters more proficiently. I went over another page of the food chapter, now I can say “I love chocolate cake”, so… there’s that. Mom came home and mentioned I should watch YouTube videos of people signing so I could be better at recognizing signs. It’s a fantastic idea. I would like to take a class so I can get the interactive practice I need, but for now, I’ll teach myself until I can find a reasonably priced class.

On another note, I’m starting to consider learning a vocal language on top of this. ASL is not too hard to learn. In fact, I’m learning this language at an accelerated pace, so another language on top of this can’t be too hard.

Jan. 12, 2018

Turns out I have a friend who knows a little about ASL. He told me to do some research on those who speak it. In general, only those culturally deaf should give name signs to others. Later I signed “My name is Jeff” to him and he almost fought me.

I’m reading this about learning new languages: immersion is the best way to learn. I guess I better find a way to immerse myself. I have a great aunt who is deaf, maybe I could contact her. Still looking around for classes.

Illustration by Rebecca Chapman
To make the American sign for love, close your hands into fists and cross your arms over your heart.

Jan. 13, 2018

 I’ve noticeably decreased my time in learning ASL, but I’m determined! I’’ll keep practicing and reviewing, but I’ve only learned a few new things. I’ll try to do more today.

Finished the third chapter- titled Food and Eating. It was long and monotonous, but worth it.

As for my thoughts on learning a vocal language, I would have to consider how often I would use it. My mother is a pilot who frequently travels to Germany; it would be logical for her to learn German. I am going to go to an art school after graduation. If I would learn a new vocal language, I would choose either Mandarin or Cantonese. Upon reviewing my top college choice, I learned that most international students there are from either China or South Korea. This college also has a satellite campus in Hong Kong. I understand that these languages are difficult to learn; if I keep up the same energy as with learning sign language, I’ll learn it quickly. Also, my new neighbors are Chinese- they could help once I start learning the language!  Once I’m better at sign language, I’ll explore some Mandarin…or maybe Cantonese. 

Jan. 14, 2018

Started doing some research on Chinese language dialects. The difference between Mandarin and Cantonese is how it’s spoken. These two languages share the same characters and vowel sounds. They differ because Cantonese has one extra vowel than Mandarin. If a Mandarin speaker and a Cantonese speaker were to text, they could understand each other.

Jan. 15, 2018

Also, upon surfing the internet I found something pretty cool

After learning greetings in Mandarin, I’ve decided that Sign Language is a pretty easy language to learn! You’re assigning a motion to a word, which is much easier than learning a new spoken language.

Did some review today, though mostly gave myself a break. My sister shared some foul words in ASL; I’ll put to good use.

Jan. 16, 2018

I’m starting to understand why Chinese is such a difficult language to learn! They can pronounce each vowel four to five different ways; mispronouncing a vowel changes the word’s meaning completely. On another note, sentence structure greatly differs from English; I’m confident my Chinese and Taiwanese friends can help with this!

Duolingo  taught me how to say 20 (二十) and 200 (二百),  (which is basically 2+10 and 2+100), but not 22; my friend Tiffany explained it would be 2+10+2 (二十二). From my understanding, 222 would be 2+100+2+10+2 (二百二十二).

Also, last night I watched a show called “Dark”. It depicted a family with a deaf child; it featured a lot of sign language, bur I suspect they used Deutsche Gebärdensprache, or German Sign Language. Even though I couldn’t understand the German version, it was nice to see it used! Representation of minorities of all sorts is very important.

Illustration by Rebecca Chapman
The sign for father is an open hand with the thumb against the forehead.

Also, this morning scrolling through Instagram, I saw the hashtag #我也是: the Chinese version of #metoo! The two characters I recognized were 我 (me, I, my) and 也 (too, also, and). I couldn’t recognize 是, but upon googling it, it translates to “Yes”. Putting all three characters together captures the phrase and movement perfectly.

Jan. 17, 2018

Took a break. Black Mirror is an incredibly good show! On the other hand, I’ve binge-watched two series within the span of two days. Yes, I consider myself a marathon binger. No, I’m not brain dead or in need of comatose treatment.

Jan. 18, 2018

Sometimes for practice,  I’ll spell a word out in ASL when I hear it or I’ll sign words in songs that I know. Some words are fun to sign, like “dust” or “share;” I find myself signing them because I like the movement. I would be incredibly embarrassed if anyone- especially a deaf person- caught me repeatedly signing “dust” without context.

Jan. 19, 2018