Me: Today, I am going to interview my Chinese tutor, who I know by the name of Vesta. (turning to Vesta) But what is your Chinese name?
ㄏㄨㄤˊ ㄧˇ ㄑㄧㄢˋ
(huang2 yi3 qian4)
[you may be aware that the Chinese say their surname, or what we call the “last name” or family name, first, so her personal name is 顗篟 ㄧˇ ㄑㄧㄢˋ (yi3 qian4) and her surname is 黃 ㄏㄨㄤˊ (huang2).]
Me: What was the first language you learned to speak?
(ㄒㄧㄠˇ) (ㄕˊ ㄏㄡˋ) (ㄗㄞˋ) (ㄨㄛˇ ㄉㄜ˙) (ㄐㄧㄚ) (ㄨㄛˇ ㄇㄣ˙) (ㄕㄨㄛ) [(ㄊㄞˊ ㄨㄢ) (ㄏㄨㄚˋ)]
(xiao3) (shi2 hou4) (zai4) (wo3 de.) (jia1) (wo3 men.) (shuo1) [(tai2 wan1)(hau4)]
(small) (when, time) (at) (my) (home) (we) (to speak) [(Taiwan)(language)]
When I was small, we spoke Taiwanese at home.
Me: And then later, you learned to speak Mandarin Chinese, which you call…
The national language.
Me: And how old were you when you learned to speak that language?
Six years old.
Me: Why did you have to learn to speak that language?
(ㄗㄞˋ) (ㄒㄩㄝˊ ㄒㄧㄠˋ) (ㄇㄟˇ) (ㄍㄜ˙) (ㄖㄣˊ) (ㄉㄡ) ( ㄧㄠˋ) (ㄒㄩㄝˊ)
(zai4) (xue2 xiao4) (mei3) (ge.) (ren2) (dou1) (yao4) (xue2) (guo2 yu3)
(at) (school) (every) (MW for person) (person) (all) (must) (to learn) (national language)
At school, everyone had to learn the national language.
[She has told me that that is the only language they were allowed to speak at school, and it became the language that she spoke all the time outside of her childhood home. This was partly because her school mates didn’t necessarily speak Taiwanese in their homes, as there were several languages spoken on Taiwan at that time.
When she had children, she taught them Mandarin Chinese from birth. Her children then learned Taiwanese from extended family when they were still fairly young. (They are adults now)]
Me: Do you know any other languages?
ㄉㄨㄟˋ ㄨㄛˇ ㄓ ㄉㄠˋ ㄖˋㄨㄣˊ
(dui4) (wo3) (zhi1 dao4) (ri4 wen2)
(correct) (I) (to know) (Japanese)
ㄨㄛˇ ㄓ ㄉㄠˋ ㄊㄞˊ ㄨㄢ ㄏㄨㄚˋ
(wo3) (zhi1 dao4) (tai2 wan1 hua4)
(I) (to know) (Taiwanese)
ㄨㄛˇ ㄓ ㄉㄠˋ ㄏㄢˊ ㄨㄣˊ
(wo3) (zhi1 dao4) (han2 wen2)
(I) (to know) (Korean)
ㄧ ㄒㄧㄝ ㄍㄨㄤˇ ㄉㄨㄥ ㄏㄨㄚˋ
(yi1 xie1) (guang3 dong1 hua4)
Right, I know Japanese, I know Taiwanese, I know Korean, and some Cantonese.
Me: Do you also know English?
Vesta: 當然！Of course!
Me: When did you learn to speak English?
Vesta: When I went to junior high school.
Me: Were you around any English speakers, native English speakers, at that point?
Vesta: Um, sometimes with missionaries.
Me: Okay. Were you able to hold conversations with them?
Vesta: Um, vocabulary, not conversation.
Me: Okay. So, then, you told me you went to school in Taiwan to become a nurse.
Me: And then you came over to the United States to go to grad school. And what did you study in grad school?
Vesta: Child development and psychology.
Me: Were you able to speak English well enough at that point to study well?
Vesta: When I came, I went to school every day, went to the classroom… yeah, sometimes I didn’t understand what professors, you know, said. So went back home, I check up the text book and read out loud. Then, you know, look up the dictionaries to know the vocabulary. So, gradually, I got, um, better! That’s how I learn(ed).
Me: How long have you been teaching other people to speak and learn Chinese?
Vesta: (At first) it wasn’t professionally, it was the missionaries, you know, came to Taiwan and we bumped (in)to a lot of missionaries. They will like to chat with us in Chinese, so I taught them how to speak Chinese.
Me: When you were how old?
Vesta: Nineteen years old.
Me: But then, you started teaching more professionally…
Me: When was that?
Vesta: When I came back here.
Vesta: uh, 2005, I start to teach, uh, 2007.
Me: Okay, what advice do you have for someone who is trying to learn Chinese?
Vesta: Broaden the vocabulary. Practice tones. Four tones, you know, and, uh, plus neutral tone. Keep learning, like how I learn English!
By the way, I like to mention, when I was in my teenage, uh, years, I like to listen and sing, um, English songs, like, uh, Carpenters.
Me: The Carpenters – so you say singing is a good way to help learn a language. I know you have used some songs to help me learn things.
Vesta: Well, I, you know, watch those, um, dramas –
Me: You said Korean soap operas?
Vesta: Yeah, soap operas, so I catch, kind of, uh, catch up their language, and I can mimic how they say it. If I listen more, then I became fascinated.
Vesta: with they sound, you know, they say. You know, sometimes I have hard time to mimic and it’s kind of, uh, even, even more to, um, motivate me to mimic.
Vesta: That’s, you know, how I learn. Even when I started to learn English, it’s that way, too.
Vesta: Because, when I, you know, hear someone say it in English and it’s not how I say it, and I say, “Why I don’t sound like them?” (me laughing) So I tried practice several times, you know, to mimic.
Vesta: then I will grasp.
Me: Which is why it is so important to have the speaking and listening as part of language learning. You can’t just do it by books.
Vesta: Correct. There are a lot of vocabulary, you know, uh, I don’t use often, so sometimes, I, I think don’t speak as, uh, native do. Uh, so, um, I will practice them several times and, uh, until I think, yeah, I got it! Then, that’s how I learned it, so, it’s fun for me.
Me: And that’s encouraging to me, because I can hear that, while your English is not perfect, you still communicate in English very well. So that gives me hope for my Chinese.
Me: Is there anything else you would like to tell us?
Vesta: If about learning a language, it’s, you have to feel it’s fun. It, and it’s not a task. And learning, um, like, I said, you know, I like to mimic the sound, so, it’s fun for me to learn languages.
Me: So, kind of make it a game?
Me: And that’s what we’re trying to do.
Vesta: That’s, you know, for me it’s a fun thing to do. It’s like, uh, my entertainment of (the) day.
Vesta: I’ve never been interviewed in my whole life! It’s the first time!