My 20th Chineseversary

A couple of days ago, I suddenly realized that 2022 marks 20 years since I started studying Chinese.

First thought: Has it really been that long?

Second thought: Now I’ve spent a longer part of my lifetime knowing Chinese than not knowing it!

Third thought: Boy, I’m so old!

I don’t remember if I’ve ever said here that I started studying Chinese completely by chance. It had not occurred to me that “Chinese is the language of the future” and I wasn’t “fascinated by Chinese culture since I was a child” nor was I “a fan of manga and anime but my grade didn’t allow me to study Japanese so I chose Chinese instead” (to mention three of the most common reasons for studying Chinese that I’ve heard). I didn’t have any previous interest in studying Chinese, and I simply chose it because I needed a third foreign language in my translation studies and the faculty secretary told me that the Chinese teacher was very nice and everybody passed the exams. So Chinese was it! If it wasn’t for that comment, I would have probably just chosen French or Portuguese, which I had studied briefly in school. Hey, I should track down that woman and send her a thank you gift!

It seems that, when I started studying Chinese, there weren’t many schools in Spain teaching it. My university was one of only three offering this language. There weren’t many available teaching materials either, and none of them were specifically for Spanish speaking students. We used a textbook published in China and with explanations in English. Back then, buying things from the other side of the world wasn’t very common either, so our textbook was photocopied and bound like a notebook.

“I’m sorry, mr. Copyright Police, I didn’t want to do it, the school forced me to”.

The first year teacher was very nice indeed. He was a middle-aged man from Xi’an who played the violin and sometimes played in class. I think he tried to make lessons fun and not too difficult so people would continue studying Mandarin. In the second year, for one semester we had a female teacher who came from China on exchange. I don’t remember her lessons, just that one day she invited us over to her place to make dumplings. The other semester it was a Spanish man who had lived in China for many years. He spent the whole 2 hour class speaking Chinese. It was exhausting!

In the first year, there were 60 students or so; by the fourth year, only 7 or 8 remained. People that only chose the subject for the credits obviously didn’t stay long. We didn’t study Chinese language per se in the last two years, but rather translation. Many of the texts we translated for practice were stories about the meaning of chengyu or Chinese proverbs (such as drawing a snake and adding feet).

A few days ago, a friend asked me how people find characters in the dictionary, and it is indeed a very good question. In those times (I sound like a grandma), the internet was not as widely used as it is now and we all had paper dictionaries (the Chinese-English one that I had was very heavy). We dedicated a couple of lessons to learn how to use it, because it was quite complicated. First you have to deduce which part of the character is the radical, then count the strokes in the radical, then go to the list where all radicals are arranged by stroke count, and finally go to the page indicated in that list and find the word you are looking for. Phew! Online dictionaries are way faster and more convenient!

The dictionary I used.

Have you ever learned another language? What made you choose it?