The Best Way to Learn a Language

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“Zuo xia lai! An jing!” The memory of my teacher from middle school shrieking at the class to “sit down and be quiet” rang in my head as I left the bustling cafeteria of my new high school. For two years, I learned Chinese under the infamously strict Mrs. Wang. Her small figure and wide smile disguised the true woman underneath, a harsh teacher whose brain seemed to be hardwired a little bit differently than everybody else’s. Her fierce Chinese pride and desire for her students to reach the highest standard of academic excellence ruled her teaching style: unnecessarily rigorous, unforgiving, and unrelenting. I succeeded in being a top student in my class, but the journey to achieving an “A” proved to be more difficult than surviving a Category 3 hurricane. My eagerness to learn especially declined when her notoriously long lectures barely allowed enough time to get the actual lesson learned, and it was with immense relief that I graduated from Mrs. Wang’s class.

The passageways of my new school came back into focus as I returned from my spilt-second reverie. I dodged and stumbled my way up the library’s stairs towards the Chinese classroom, away from the upperclassmen-infested halls. “Will this teacher be a clone of her?” I thought, frowning. Butterflies stirred in my belly with fervor, but I managed to open the door’s gleaming chrome handle with wavering hands. Walking in, I began to greet a familiar face, but a youthful young lady appeared in front of me. A genuinely spirited smile lit up her face as she warmly said “Huan ying, wo shi Ge laoshi, qing jin,” Welcome, I’m Ms. Ge, please come in. Gesturing softly, she helped me to my seat and then went to meet the other students coming in with the same bubbly attitude. Surprised, I sat down slowly, looking at surrounding handmade festival decorations and posters, and fully seeing for the first time the cheerfully compartmentalized classroom that would be my new language-learning environment. The walls covered from floor to ceiling with multitudes of childlike and mature pieces, it became obvious to me that Ms. Ge appreciated the work her pupils did, regardless of how every student’s compared to one another.

Class began with the sharp clang of the bell, and Ms. Ge dove into her lesson plan, determinedly reviewing terminology that we might have forgotten over the summer. As she taught, Ms. Ge often laughed and used humor to liven up our group of fifteen high schoolers while we began to readjust our ears to understanding Chinese. If I lost myself in translation during the exercises, she skipped over as soon as the lesson plan allowed and took me through the language change step-by-step until I understood how to do it by myself. While I wrote “mountain climbing” and “international traveling” in my set of summer activity vocabulary, I felt the grin on my face and realized the old suppressed boredom and frustration I used to feel no longer remained in my new Chinese class. Ghosts of the unsympathetic Mrs. Wang repeatedly tried to nudge themselves into my mind, but those ghosts completely melted away with just one look at the supportive and vibrant Ms. Ge.





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