Mandarin courses offer enrichment

Gene Wei ’24

What makes Mandarin a unique language?

Mandarin, the official language of China, is the most widely spoken language in the world. Strake Jesuit offers Mandarin 1, 2, 3, and AP Chinese. As a student in a Mandarin class, I have been given the opportunity not only to learn the language, but also to immerse myself in the rich and fascinating culture of China.

What makes Mandarin unique as a language? Is it its tonal nature or characters? Mrs. Meyer explained, “What makes Mandarin such a unique and fun language is its pinyin (pronunciation) and pictographs.” Pictographs are the earliest Chinese characters, graphic representations, that look like the word that they are used to represent. For example, 木 is wood/tree, 雨 is rain, or 山 is mountain. The spoken language consists of four tones that can change the meaning of a word entirely. For example, the word “ma” can mean mother in a flat tone, hemp in a rising tone, horse in a falling rising tone, or curse/rebuke in a fast downward tone. The ability to differentiate tonal sounds is what makes Mandarin a challenging language to learn for non-native speakers, but it also makes the language sound musical and expressive. In my Mandarin class my teacher, Mrs. Meyer, has taught us the nuances of each of the 4 tones, how to listen out for them, and through repetition how to say them. She has taught each student, both native and foreign to the language, the proper

way to speak, read, write, memorize, and even opened our eyes to cultural customs like table manners.

In addition to learning the language and cultural customs, my Mandarin class has also exposed me to important celebrations in China, including the Lunar New Year. The Lunar New Year, also known as Chinese New Year, is one of the most important and widely celebrated holidays in China and in other countries with Chinese communities. Mrs. Meyer recalls, “Chinese New Year is one of my favorite holidays to celebrate. I remember when I lived in Beijing in the early 1990s, my local area used to allow fireworks. On Chinese New Year’s Eve, we would stay up late and go outside to set off fireworks at 12:00 midnight.” It is celebrated over a period of 15 days, with each day having its own special significance. For example, on Chinese New Year’s Eve, it is traditional to eat dumplings, and both the Eve and the first day are dedicated to reuniting with close family, while afterwards meeting up with extended family and friends. “There is always something good to eat”, Mrs. Meyer noted with glee. One of the traditions of the Lunar New Year is the red decorations that people hang in homes and streets. Red is considered a lucky color in Chinese culture and is believed to ward off evil spirits and bring good fortune. During the Lunar New Year, families often exchange red envelopes filled with money as a symbol of good luck and prosperity. Homes are also cleaned and decluttered to symbolize a fresh start and to welcome good luck into the new.

Attending Mandarin class has been a rich and fulfilling experience. It has given us the opportunity to learn the language, as well as to be immersed in the culture of China. I look forward to continuing my studies in Mandarin and incorporating what I have learned into my daily life.