Guess Where I Am!

Hello everyone! I know that it’s been a while since I last posted, but I’ve just been so busy this summer with an internship that I never really found the time to post again. I spent this summer doing a lot of vocabulary review in Mandarin (went up to HSK Level 3), Hindi, Kannada, Italian, and Spanish. Every day on the train back to and from work, or at my lunch break, I did Memrise sessions to improve my vocabulary retention.

And now, I’ve made an even bigger jump than simply going from my small hometown in California to New York City for college. I’m in Shanghai, China for an entire academic year to study abroad! In addition to studying Mandarin Chinese, I’m also taking two classes in comparative politics as well as a class in Chinese bamboo flute.

In the future, I will be trying to use this blog more often, but it will include more stuff about my studying abroad in China. The topics I cover will be mostly about traveling, learning Mandarin, as well as some other things that I see and do in China. Since I’m a vegetarian, I’ll definitely be making quite a few posts about my experiences in China relating to that as well.

Hope you all enjoy this new series of posts!

Why America Isn’t As Multicultural As You Think (And What We Can Do About It)

It is not rarely that I hear the glories of America’s multicultural and multiethnic history, and that it has always been accepting of immigrants and creates a place for mutual understanding. While it’s certainly true that cultural pluralism was effectively born in the United States, modern-day America is not as integrated as you would be lead to believe.

The majority of the immigrant population lives on the coasts, where bigger cities and more job opportunities exist for newcomers to the country. While there is certainly little you can do about the lower numbers of immigrants elsewhere, it’s not an excuse for lacking in cultural education. We live in the Information Age, where literally thousands upon thousands of articles, e-books, and websites are at your disposal to learn about essentially anything.

America has always had what is called “a cult of ignorance,” as described by Professor Traphagan in an article by the Huffington Post (linked here). Media and education treat other nations as exotic, different, and most of all, implicitly inferior. We are taught that the United States is successful and powerful because it allows its citizens certain rights and liberties that other countries do not. This creates not only a national superiority complex, but also brushes to the side all the nations that immigrants come from. By implying that other nations are lower than ours is, we cultivate a culture of anti-foreign beliefs.

To remedy the ills of anti-immigrant sentiment and cultural ignorance, I think that it is necessary to implement foreign language education at an age much earlier than middle school. Beginning at least in second or third grade, children become increasingly cognizant of the fact there are other races of people, different lifestyles, and of course, that there are other languages. In middle school, children, due to the vast amount of information on the Internet and the prevalence of technology, have formed many of their own opinions, habits, and even personal beliefs regarding other people. While children are young, we ought to be instilling in them the idea that the world is a big place, where people are different, and one of the best ways to do so is teaching them foreign languages.

Therefore, I propose multilingual education beginning in third grade. In a hypothetical model, children would select the language they want to learn (with some guidance from parents, of course), and learn it alongside other coursework. Recognizing that some parents might take issue with this program, foreign language would optional until high school, where it actually becomes a requirement for graduation. However, foreign language should eventually become a core subject, not an elective or minimal requirement. By engaging children in environments different from the ones they usually encounter, they can develop a broader perspective from which to view the world and their other learning.

Different languages have different ways of looking at things, evidenced in different expressions, untranslatable words, and the varying ways in which words are put together. It has been shown in several studies (some of which you can see here)that students with foreign language skills often perform noticeably higher on standardized testing, especially in the areas of writing and reading. In addition to teaching children more about the world in general, it would accelerate their learning, and also get America ahead academically.

Studies have shown that children who grow up in environments where they acquire a second language have significantly better cognitive abilities, have better problem-solving skills, and are generally much more receptive to new ideas (not necessarily ideological). Not only do children acquire another form of communication, but they also have a new medium of understanding of the world around them. It is better for children to develop their understanding of the world in two or more lenses, rather than acquiring the lens later on in life, where their views of the world are largely solidified and immutable. To make America truly multicultural, the next generation needs to know what that means, and the best way to do that is through exposure.

So that’s my piece for today. Leave some comments, if you have your own thoughts on this. Please share this post and other previous articles on other sites, such as Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr, so that more people can contribute to the discussion!

For A Better Brain, Learn Another Language

I highly recommend this article, by Cody Delistraty. It’s a very interesting read, along with his other essays on his blog, which you can find here: http://delistraty.com

Here’s the main article, though:

http://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2014/10/more-languages-better-brain/381193/?single_page=true

Lost in Translation

I must confess that I really hate it when people’s argument against foreign language is, “Everyone speaks English anyway,” or, “Just put it through Google Translate.” Google Translate is not at all effective. I only use it because its voices for various languages are pretty good, and I can get the pronunciation of a sentence that I write in.

Sure, translation is handy when you just don’t have the time to sit and learn the language, or when it’s a really short term thing. But there is a lot of stuff lost in translation, because what there are sentiments and concepts that exist as certain things in one language, and don’t translate completely into English or whatever other language it is. Famous examples on which lengthy papers and books have been written include saudade, sprezzatura, duende, and schadenfreude. There are very, very specific meanings, interpretations, and usages associated with these words, that are very hard to translate into another language.

A very good example exists in manga and anime. I myself do watch anime (though not much anymore, mostly because I tend to be picky) and read a few mangas. Manga, especially, is an example of imperfect translation. Translator notes around the panels often indicate the reason for a particular translation, or choice to leave a name in Japanese. For example, in the manga “Noragami,” the translator decided to translate the name of a character named Bishamonten as Vaisravana and Veena (different instances of the name). Bishamonten is derived from a name in Sanskrit from a Buddhist text. It makes very little sense to give the original name of the deity rather than what she is referred to as in the manga. Bishamonten holds more meaning in the original Japanese, and Vaisravana and Veena (which is even less appropriate, because it refers to an entirely different goddess from Hinduism, Saraswati) mean even less to English readers.

An example of an accurate and appropriate translation occurs in the anime Fairy Tail (though this may be because it’s been licensed and translated by more experienced translators). One of the protagonists’ names is Natsu, which means “summer,” in Japanese. Here, his name is not translated into English.

In the original Japanese text, any puns, jokes, or allusions apparent to Japanese readers will not be so obvious to English readers. Names play an important role in the way things are read in manga. This is because manga writers frequently do word plays and allusions to various things revolving around the way things are named.

Yet another example is a manga that my friend reads (the name escapes me right now), in which the female protagonist is frequently referred to as takane-no-hana, which means “a flower on a high peak.” The expression in Japanese refers to something out of one’s reach. This means absolutely nothing to the reader in English, so the translator decided to tell the reader in the beginning.

These are yet more reasons why you should learn another language, so that you can experience the original text in the way it was intended to be. Feel free to leave comments and share this post!

Requests!

Because it’s Labor Day, I’m kind of sitting at home with little to do. The Ganesh Chaturthi was this weekend, but that was the end of any real excitement. I’d love to take requests on topics concerning foreign language! Whether I’ll answer a question is really dependent whether I have the knowledge or can research it to tackle it or not. So, ask away!