As an Italian native speaker having been studying foreign languages for many years, I have experienced many different types of tasks and/or ways of acquiring a language. Of all the languages I know, the most challenging by far is Mandarin – and for this and other reasons, I also reckon it is the most fascinating .
So, here is what I want to tell you about today: my weird experience with Mandarin, and how it has made me think about one possible way to learn a language, namely, via courses on DVDs.
I ran across Chinese when I was nineteen, during my first year at university back in Italy. Up to that moment my L2s had always been English and French. When the moment came to choose my two languages for my bachelor degree in Western and Eastern Languages and Cultures, my thoughts were that on one hand I I really wanted to undertake a new challenge whilst on the other one, I did not want to leave my English aside. Whereby came my choices: English and Mandarin.
On this post, I am putting aside English language – whose path led me to this exact point of my life – and focussing instead on Mandarin.
Stating that you have to restructure all the way your brain has been developing until now for learning a language, won’t be enough of a satisfactory explanation of what learning Mandarin means: no alphabet, totally different sentence structures, morphological and grammatical elements never heard or used before. For sure, my need for big linguistic challenges was being accomplished! And, although I was taught by one of the best Italian teachers of Mandarin in Italy, I learnt pretty soon that the biggest job had to be done through individual study. This brought me to think about new techniques and tools for acquiring the new language. An Italian Editors company called De Agostini, along with a stationery and computer shop, helped me with this, i.e. it published a whole course of Mandarin via DVDs – ten in total which came out on a weekly basis. In some weeks I also got an image dictionary, some visual cards ordered by topic (school, office, transport, sports, kitchen, food, and so forth), and a two-volume (Mandarin to Italian and Italian to Mandarin) dictionary. I though it would be a great tool to integrate with what I was learning in classes, and indeed it helped me a lot.
Ever since then, technology has been blending with language teaching, and it has certainly led to a general preference for the use of online digital material rather than ‘portable’ digital material (aka “softwares”). Personally, however, I still quite prefer having something to touch and to work on by underlining and writing small notes on it. But this is a different topic, that I am addressing more deeply in my next post.