Language Learning in Taiwan with Sydney Merrell ’24 – OCS Blog: Voices and Views – Carleton College

This summer I was given the opportunity to participate in a Chinese intensive language program in Hsinchu, Taiwan. I spent 8 weeks living in Taiwan, being immersed in the culture and the language. This program drastically improved my Chinese language skills because not only was I being taught new concepts in the classroom but was also using my Chinese language skills in my day-to-day life. Most of my day was spent in a classroom at National Tsing Hua University, where I learned new Chinese vocabulary, sentence structures, and grammar rules. Outside of class, we were able to explore the city and practice our Chinese with the locals.

Our lessons also tied in aspects of Taiwanese culture, for example, we had a lesson about Taiwanese history. So while I was learning more advanced language rules I was also learning about the effect social media has had on the younger generation in Taiwan. Much of my time spent outside of the classroom was spent studying and preparing for the following day’s class, this made my Chinese improve greatly and quickly. We spent the weekends either on cultural excursions that the university organized for us or with our local host families.

These weekends were my favorite part of the program as I learned more about Taiwan and its culture. My favorite cultural excursion we participated in was around the city of Hsinchu. I was surprised by the richness of the history and culture of that area. We were taken on a walking tour of the city and shown some of the best restaurants in the city that were right by our hotel! They also brought us to a tea shop where we not only learned about what makes that tea unique but we also got to make the tea ourselves. The most unique experience I had was with my host family. They discovered that I love fruit, especially fruit that is harder to get in the United States, so they took me to a local Taiwanese grape farm.

At the farm, I learned about what makes Taiwanese grapes different from those in the United States. Turns out, that in Taiwan, you are not supposed to eat the skin of the grape! When I learned about this I was so excited because when I was young the first tongue twister I learned in Chinese was about spitting out the peel of grapes. I had never understood where the inspiration for that tongue twister came from but after that day I finally knew. Another unique way that the university made sure we were taught about Taiwan’s culture was through once-a-week cultural classes. We had these classes every Monday afternoon and they were super fun. Some examples of topics we covered during this time are mahjong, Chinese opera masks, trendy songs, Chinese paper cutting, and bookbinding. I discovered I love the art of paper-cutting and was impressed by my ability to replicate the examples the teachers showed us.

This program improved my Chinese language skills quickly and efficiently and gave me the opportunity to learn about a new culture. I plan to continue to improve my Chinese language skills while at Carleton College to then go into a career where my knowledge of Chinese is used.

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