It was, as always, a fight between the reason and the heart. My heart was pointing to German and English, which I already knew pretty well at a time; however, it would be reasonable to pick Chinese or Swedish. Eventually my heart won the battle, but I didn’t drop my plan to learn Chinese. I decided to try and learn some on my own – partly out of sheer curiosity, partly to see what I was missing out not studying sinology. For two years, I’d spend an hour and a half a week with a tutor trying to gain an insight into the basics of Mandarin Chinese.
Lessons consisted of writing, reading, listening – beginner’s standard. I was doing pretty well. However, the highlights of these lessons were the stories my teacher was telling me. She had a real passion for Chinese, since she had spent years in the Middle Kingdom. Every week I used to listen to both funny and astonishing anecdotes. They made me aware of how deep are the differences between our cultures, ways of thinking and social relations. I would be completely lost having found myself in this country. Moreover, the ideas that Chinese is based on were sometimes completely unfamiliar to me. For example, two different signs representing „younger brother” and „older brother” represent the hierarchical structure of the Chinese society. A perfect pitch may also come in handy, for Mandarin is a tonal language.
All that was both fascinating and difficult at once. Each lesson brought me closer to the idea of how much work it requires to learn Mandarin well – how many books I would have to read and how many travels I would have to experience! I’m not even saying that reading books or travelling were beyond my reach. I simply understood that I am not interested in it to such an extent that I would sacrifice my studies or other passions.
Looking back, I don’t regret spending two years on learning Mandarin. I’m glad, however, that I didn’t choose sinology as my major in the first place. Studying philology has taught me that language is above all an inseparable part of a particular culture. It’s difficult to learn the language not being in love with the culture. An example: my engagement in learning French. Simultaneously with the decision to learn Mandarin came the decision to learn the langue de Moliere. I have been learning it ever since and lately became quite fluent in it. And I might say that the reason I like French is that I simply like France, French people, their cuisine and cinema. I am fascinated by the sound of French language, French attachment to the matters of form and fondness of discussion.
I still have never visited China. I am planning such a trip, though. Occasionally, I come across information about the progress of trade relations between China and Poland and about the need for well-qualified translators of such language combination. From my perspective, taking up a niche language is worth consideration for those facing a choice of their major. It doesn’t need to be an Asian one – in our market people fluent in Flemish, Scandinavian languages and even Czech are becoming more and more desired. Having said that, I still claim that a perspective of bigger earnings should not be the only point of reference. In such case, we take the risk of becoming a craftsman whose work is not particularly pleasant for the ear instead of a well-sounding professional.