Why I Studied Chinese

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Beijing Tiananmen Square



You should see the look on people’s faces when I tell them I took seven years of Chinese, studied abroad in China, and was a Chinese minor. Obviously that’s not what you expect to hear from someone who spends most of her time changing two kids’ dirty diapers and wiping spit-up off her shirt.

It’s not something I bring up a lot, because I am afraid someone might force me to try to speak Chinese. After seven years of not using the language, I’m afraid my level is right up there with Ni Hao Kai Lan – if not lower. Mostly I only divulge my studies if I am talking about travel with someone. It makes me feel pretty cool (something I am not) to say, “Oh, well, I’ve been to China, Thailand, Brazil, and Taiwan.”

(Strangely, I’ve never been to New England, although that will be remedied this summer! I’ve also never been farther West in the US than Montana, unless you count airports.)

So why did I take Chinese? It was simple: I was scared of confusion.

I went to a magnet school for government and international studies for high school, and we had to have a total of six years of language studies for graduation—at least four years of one language and at least two years of another. I started French in eighth grade, and that was my four-year language. I was worried if I picked another Latin-based language I would confuse the two.

That left me Russian, Japanese, Chinese, and sign language as choices. I probably would have picked Japanese, except the teacher was also the woman who taught Chinese and was from China herself. Supposedly her Japanese class consisted mostly of, “Now the Chinese created this and then the Japanese stole it!”

Although my Chinese teacher in high-school was a little bit of a nut job, she introduced the Chinese culture to me in a way I found fascinating. We visited Chinese grocery stores, sang children’s songs, made sushi, and learned characters with flourish. The lei I wore around my neck on graduation day was LaoShi’s contribution to making sure the whole school knew Chinese students were different and special.


Three years of high-school Chinese allowed me to skip … the first semester of college Chinese I. Yes, ONE semester. But in the next three-and-a-half years, I grew to love the crazy people in my class. I went to China for six weeks to study the language (and shop … and learn how to berate taxi drivers in Chinese).

No, I haven’t used it since I graduated. But I still feel like God put a love for all things China in my heart for a reason. Like many things in life, I will just wait and see how it works itself out.

So for now: zaijian, pengyoumen.

Tiananmen Square entrance to the Forbidden City.



[Other possible answers to why I studied Chinese include: Lottie Moon, I really like Chinese take-out food, and I wanted to marry an Asian guy and have cute Asian babies.]

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6 thoughts on “Why I Studied Chinese

  1. 3 cheers for Asian babies! They are SOOO stinkin' cute! 🙂

    Yeah, so I had absolutely no idea that you have this background! Wow!

    I feel you on not wanting to talk about it. I took 2 full years of Hebrew, and I might (maybe, just maybe) be able to pronounce a word I see written in Hebrew, but I'm definitely not going to be able to tell you what it means….

  2. I loved learning a little bit more about you through this post, and I can relate! I studied three years of French in college, up to becoming fluent (according to my Parisian professor). I also spent a semester in the Middle East, attempting to learn Arabic. I was convinced I was going to join the State Department and return to the Middle East. I miss it, and I feel disappointed sometimes that it's been three years and I don't see where God is wanting me to head with all my passion for other parts of the world. Because right now it seems like he really wants me to stay here in America. But when I take a mental step backwards, I realize three years is nothing to God. Like you, I know he had a reason for me to fall in love with languages and invest that time and energy in my studies. He'll let me know when the time is right. Meanwhile, I'll stay here in the states living each day as best I can according to his will.

  3. OK Jessie, it's official. We're meant to be friends! I can relate to soooo much of this. And I lived in Thailand for two years! Unfortunately, I never got into China proper. Hong Kong and Macau (before HK went back to China) were as close as I got.

  4. Xie xie nide jieshao! Tebie you yisi!

    I studied Latin & French in high school & college. Then learned Chinese "barefoot" in China. Hard, hard language. But a wonderful accomplishment when you can communicate with people. The motivation is totally different when you're taking a test.

  5. This was so interesting, Jessie!

    I took two years of French in high school, then three semesters in college. I now recognize all of the French in the movie Beauty & the Beast. LOL 😉

    I'm brushing up some while my kids are studying French. Still — it's not pretty.

  6. I studied Chinese, too! I only took a year in high school, but I still remember how to say some things, enough that I understood all the Chinese words you used in this post!

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