Learning Chinese in Two Settings

By: Shengyong (Sherry) Zou

My name is Shengyong (Sherry) Zou and I identify myself as an Asian American college student studying psychology at St. John’s University. This is my first time writing about my native language, my culture and my identity. Through this article and my future articles, I hope to share my experiences in learning Chinese and how learning Chinese has impacted my understanding of the culture; more importantly I want to reflect on how learning Chinese has influenced my identity.

I was born in China and I came to the United States when I was nine. In spending nine years in China, I had learned to speak, to write, and to comprehend Chinese. For me, learning to speak and to comprehend Chinese was an easy task because I was surrounded by my family members who all had spoken Chinese. Every day, I would hear the words over and over again.

For me, the hardest part about learning Chinese is writing. In school, I not only learned about the characters of the Chinese language, but also I had to know the names of each character that make up the words. In my opinion, it was a long and tedious job; to sum up in one sentence, I think learning Chinese is about memorization and practice.

Later throughout the years, I came to the United States. When I first came to the United States, I did not speak a word of English. Because of this, I spoke only Chinese and hardly any English and as you can imagine, I was going to an Asian populated public school. Later on throughout the years in middle school, I had become fluent and proficient in English but lost a lot of my public speaking and writing skills. Fortunately, my family saw what I was experiencing and sent me to a Chinese school on Saturdays. There I picked up my Chinese and started learning what I thought I would never learn.

On Saturdays, I attended Chinese classes and I learned from Chinese instructional books that contained reading, vocabulary, and writing practices. Looking back, I saw the classes to be a form of a Chinese “SAT” preparation classes for students to do well in reading, vocabulary, and writing. I hated the classes at first and later started to love it as I discovered that through learning Chinese, it opens up many new opportunities. For example, these new opportunities opened up the ability to watch and understand Chinese documentaries; more importantly, it opened up the ability to read and comprehend Chinese writings, in particular through books and newspapers.

Currently studying psychology at Saint John’s University, I am able to conduct research on the topic of autism in China. My role in the research project is to help find relevant research articles in China about autism and to translate them in to English. This project has not only helped me to understand the research, but it also has led me to bring for future research ideas. For example, I am curious about the relationship between culture and psychological disorders in China. Furthermore, I am interested in knowing about how one’s view of his or her identify can impact the symptoms of their psychological disorders in China. If you are interested in knowing more about it, stay tuned because this will be in my next article.

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