I asked myself a question: if I had to raise a child today, what are the few useful skills that I'd impart to them to learn.
I thought for a bit and three skills seemed like clear winners. Habitual reading, coding, and speaking Mandarin. The first two I have learned and spoken about, but the third?
China is on the rise. Their GDP and influence on the world stage are impossible to ignore. Their economy, technology, and manufacturing capabilities are vital to modern life. With over a billion people speaking Mandarin, it unlocks a new world.
If these skills are valuable for my hypothetical child, they would be valuable for me. "Practice what you preach".
How I Started
I figured this year is as good a time as any to start. The years are gonna pass, might as well start now. It became even more of a reality when my girlfriend got me lessons with a teacher in Beijing. Lina is awesome and I love doing classes with her.
Our lessons consist of a PowerPoint and practicing pronunciation and new words. Right now I’m learning Pinyin, which is the romanized version of Chinese. This simplifies things. One can learn pronunciation and reading before going to characters.
Chinese is very dependent on pronunciation. Monotone is not a thing. In our first lesson, I learned the basic building blocks of the language. I’m unskilled, but with time I know I’ll improve.
I'm so bad and this is embarrassing 😂 but here is what part of a lesson looks like:
In our last lesson, we finished learning Finals and Initials. These are essential to read and pronounce Pinyin/Chinese. Though reading is helpful, my top priority is to be able to speak with a stranger.
Going forward I’ll continue to do lessons and then do some hacking. Tim Ferriss' efficient way of learning a language seems worth giving a try. I’ll post some updates when I hit another milestone.
I was always terrible at learning languages. This feels different. The lightness of not worrying about grades has completely changed my experience. It’s so freeing to learn out of enjoyment. I’m optimizing discovery and not an outcome. So many times in the lesson I feel like an idiot. But knowing that I’ll get better and don't have a hard deadline feels great. I smile almost the whole lesson, laugh at myself, and enjoy the process that is learning.
Another language is also a semi-superpower. One of the biggest benefits of learning a new language? A new way to think. Language plays a large role in people’s personalities and how they think about life. It’s a “this is water” situation that people who only speak one language can’t see. I’m nowhere near this point but excited to get there.
Sure machine learning may make learning languages irrelevant. I’m not sure how far off that is and how native it will feel. The world is also becoming more global. English or another language can become the "reserve language" (if it's not already). Until then, I’ll spend time enjoying this Human journey of learning a language.