Thursday, March 09, 2006

Learning Chinese

It's been a goal of mine to learn another language for some time now. My wife, expert world traveler that she is, can speak French, Spanish, and bits of German. Whereas my knowledge of foreign languages has been limited to two years of high school French and phrasebook knowledge of Russian, Italian, and German. But languages have always interested me. In high school, I tried to learn Elvish from the appendix of The Lord of the Rings. I tried to pick up Esperanto for a game of GURPS Riverworld. I tried to learn Welsh for a brief Celtophile (is that a word?) phase. And I've been very interested in natural language processing and constructed languages for fantasy worlds [see this site for the coolest conlang site on the web].

But thus far, I can't say that I actually know another language. I want that to change. I want to travel to a foreign country and be the one to converse with the locals. I also think that knowing a language is an important part of being a good global citizen. To that end, I've decided to study Chinese. Why Chinese? Because I think the 21st century is going to be the Chinese Century (just like the 20th was the American Century). Chinese is spoken by something like a quarter of the world's population and may even open up some interesting career opportunities in the future. Chinese culture is cool and interesting (and I can study the language while watching kick-ass wuxia films). If my son picks up some Chinese with me, then that he might have some exciting opportunities as well.

How am I going about this? I bought Rosetta Stone for a start. This CD ROM immersive course is really cool in that it jump-starts your comprehension of the language right away. The draw-back is that it offers no reference material for studying grammar or vocabulary. For that, I am relying on Chinese for Dummies (I'm so embarrassed). I also picked up a book on 250 important Chinese characters, since learning the written language is so very important to understanding the spoken language. I suspect that next year I will enroll in an actual class.

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