Taking language learning class can offer experience of lifetime

by Maitland Klingberg, Contributor

Growing up, kids often enjoy sleeping in and watching cartoons as part of their weekend morning routine. This was not a reality for me. Instead, my mother hauled me to Chinese school. 

At age five, I was enrolled in the Institute of Chinese Language and Culture in Los Angeles, California. My class, section B, was held on Saturday mornings.

For two hours, we worked closely with one another and our teacher, Lao Shi, to learn traditional Mandarin. This ranged from reading, writing and speaking. I struggled with all three of these categories, especially on our cumulative assessments. 

Trust me when I say there is no lost love between me and my former Lao Shi. We pushed each other to our own wits’ ends weekly. Her patience wore dangerously thin when I could not answer her questions or repeat a sentence without forgetting it halfway through. 

In the beginning, my face would turn red with frustration, but mainly embarrassament. I began to blame myself for the wrong reasons. I thought “well, maybe I really am dumb,” and used that to justify my failure in Saturday school. I stopped caring about success and embraced mediocrity with open arms. 

My teacher’s attempts to wring Chinese out of me were useless. When she displayed our quizzes or tests, everyone saw my papers were drenched in red ink, indicating mistakes. Seeing them grew my hatred towards the language and my education.

Nevertheless, my teacher reminded her students “if you like Chinese, Chinese will like you back.” Those words meant nothing to me until I grew tired of being the “dumb” kid. My experience with learning Mandarin changed completely once I applied myself. It felt amazing to answer questions briskly and have my tests return with a bright smiley face. 

Towards the end of my time with the institute, I realized I was never dumb, only lazy. If Chinese was a race, I treated it like a sprint rather than a marathon. My teacher, classmates, and family pushed me to see that in myself. 

I graduated from the Institute of Chinese Language and Culture in May 2021. Today, I am taking Chinese 102 with a new instructor and classmates who have different backgrounds in Mandarin. However, I will always respect and treasure my first Lao Shi and the Saturday Morning B class.

SDSU offers multiple language courses throughout each semester such as Arabic, Chinese, and Portuguese. I implore students to take a language course at San Diego State University because you will gain valuable life skills and, most importantly, an incredible community connected by language.

Maitland Klingberg is a freshman studying finance. Follow her on Instagram @maitlland.