Foreign Language: key to the world


Kevin Fan, Spanish 1

When I was first born, I was an outsider. I was the first person in my family to be born outside of China, and I grew up speaking English – not Mandarin like my maternal relatives, and not Fuzhounese like my paternal relatives.  

The First time I went to China, I was three years old, and I could only say to sentences in Chinese: “Letters. (I can’t speak Chinese.)” and “Letters? (Can you speak English?)” My family seemed to look down on me because of my inability to connect with them, and their minimal yet condescending English made me ashamed to say anything to them at all.  

At that point, I had two choices: never speak to my relatives again or learn Chinese. I chose the latter. Not only could I finally connect with my family, I could also connect with 1.2 billion more people around the world.  

After several tedious years of going to Chinese school ever Saturday, I had a good enough grasp on the language that I could maintain a simple conversation in Mandarin. So when I returned to China when I was six, I no longer needed to ask my relatives to talk to me in their stilted English. I surprised them by greeting them and talking to them in my beginner’s Chinese, and though I couldn’t communicate perfectly with them, I could sense they respected me for trying. When I’d finally returned to the US after spending six months in China, my Mandarin had improved exponentially, but there was a problem. I’d actually forgotten how to speak English! 

Luckily, I quickly picked it back up, and now, as my final year of Chinese school is coming to an end, I can proudly say that I’m truly bilingual. Not only can I speak Mandarin, I can read and write in the language as well. Someday I hope to live in China, or another Mandarin speaking country like Singapore, to utilize my Chinese education and improve my skills even more.  

Thanks to Mandarin, I can now connect with 1.2 billion people, and my English allows me to effectively communicate with 339.4 million more. But why stop there? My experience at Chinese school inspired me to learn another language in high school: Spanish. Hopefully after studying the language for several years, I will be able to connect with another 89.5 million people all over the globe.  

The time I’ve spent learning different languages has led me to believe that languages are indeed the key to understanding the world. Without language, there cannot be communication, and without communication, there cannot be understanding.  

I hope to one day be able to communicate with everyone in the whole world, and my Chinese, English, and Spanish classes are my first steps towards that dream.