And when it’s okay to use them in your works of fiction.

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Image by Kaito Kikuchi — Own Work

Spoiler warnings: Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Avatar: The Last Airbender, A Song of Ice and Fire/Game of Thrones, Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Bright

In 2017, Netflix released the feature-length film Bright to a response that I could only describe as a siege of boos and rotten tomatoes. IndieWire film critic David Ehrlich opened his review by labeling Bright as the “worst movie of 2017.” …


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It’s common knowledge that textbooks are useful for giving you a foundation in a second language, but following their directions to a tee will make you sound like a robot. As someone who has taught ESL on the side, I’ve definitely cringed at textbooks’ weird grammatical structures that native speakers never use (e.g., “with whom am I speaking?”). Likewise, I’ve had native Mandarin-speaking friends gently correct my Chinese many times over. This is just one of the many challenges of tackling a new language.

Luckily for Chinese learners, there are some easy practices you can adopt to instantly make your speech pop. I’ve compiled a list of tips I’ve learned that helped improve my spoken Mandarin Chinese; however, these tips are not ubiquitous to all Chinese accents and dialects. Just like how English has a diversity of accents and slang words, Mandarin is not uniform, either. Speech patterns and slang vary significantly, whether you’re in places like Shanghai, Singapore, Taipei, Beijing, or in a diaspora community. …


A few tips for those self-studying the language.

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I decided to learn Japanese for the same reason many people study a new language: a relationship. My partner is Japanese, and while he and his family speak English fluently, I felt like I should learn their native language. The decision didn’t seem too farfetched for me. I’m one-hundred-percent a language nerd and already knew how to speak Mandarin Chinese, which shares its characters with Japanese. “How hard could it be?” I naively wondered as I purchased a textbook.

The answer was: very. After memorizing the two syllabaries, I was confronted with syntax nearly-opposite from English, conjugation based on the formality of speech, and tongue-tying phonetic combinations (such as atatakakatta, “was warm”). Even though I share a home with a native Japanese speaker, it was difficult to practice together. …


How do you call your partner or friends?

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Image by Kaito Kikuchi — Own Work

I recently watched a video from YouTubers Rachel and Jun that discussed the use of pet names for your significant other in Japanese. Rachel, who is American, discussed how common it is to hear terms of endearment in the United States, while Jun said that in Japanese, there are no words like “sweety,” “honey,” “baby,” “boo,” etcetera; instead, affection is often communicated implicitly or through modifications of a person’s name.

This made me think about nicknames broadly, both in my native language of English and the two languages I have recently studied: Japanese and Mandarin Chinese. …


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Growing up, I never saw my parents fight. Not even once. There were a couple of times they’d grumble and growl at one another, but that was usually because it was past Mom’s bedtime or Dad was hungry. And until I reached adulthood, I thought their relationship was entirely typical.

That was until I started dating.

It was then when I was introduced to a wide spectrum of communication styles and behaviors, some of which were entirely alien to me. I remember the first time an ex and I fought, I felt shellshocked. In a situation where someone was suddenly red-faced and screaming bloody murder at me, my instantaneous response was anger. …


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A rural road in Oita Prefecture, Japan— Own Work

The story of a people, why we’ve denied their identity, and why it matters for today.

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San Vitale, Ravenna, Italy, by Petar Milošević — Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Rome is one of the most globally-discussed civilizations in history. Stories such as the Punic Wars with Carthage or Caesar’s assassination have been repeatedly dramatized and mythologized for centuries, whether by TV producers or William Shakespeare. Even after the state had collapsed, there were many Eurasian and American societies that appropriated Roman institutions, conventions, and aesthetics. Think of the neoclassical architecture in Washington D.C. and Paris (e.g., Union Station or the Arc de Triomphe), or the use of Latin in the American justice system. Some states, such as Russia or the Ottomans, even proclaimed themselves the inheritors of the Roman Empire. …


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Image of Chinatown, Yokohama, Japan — Public Domain

I wasn’t expecting to fall for a language, but Mandarin Chinese swept me off my feet. What started as a mild curiosity to converse with some of my friends turned into a journey that took me to Taipei three separate times. I’ve spent tens-of-thousands of hours studying the language and the more I learned, the more enthralled I became. Mandarin Chinese is special. After all, there’s no other living language that has a three-thousand-year-old, pictographic writing system.

Even still, I hear from other English speakers that Mandarin seems unapproachable if not studied from a young age. The U.S. government’s School of Language Studies also considers Mandarin to be one of the most difficult languages for native English speakers to learn. While I can empathize with this position, I think Mandarin’s unique merits warrant attention. …


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Image by Kaito Kikuchi — Own Work

One ice breaker I like to tell people is that I can speak eight different languages — and flirted with two others. After all, it’s a feat I’m proud of and required over a decade of study and reflection. The fact that I’m multilingual has also encouraged my friends and coworkers to ask me for tips on a regular basis. So, instead of giving ad hoc advice, I decided to write a small list.

Whether you’re wanting to pick up a new language or are on-track to becoming a polyglot yourself, here are a few tips I’ve picked up on my language-learning journey. …


How my jobs in Taiwan compare to my work-life in America.

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A view of the Taipei skyline, 2018 — own work

There are many English-language articles that criticize Taiwanese work-life and workplace culture. This is not just limited to Taiwan, mind you — there are denunciations of work cultures across East Asia, from Japan to South Korea to China.

I was aware of these narratives before I accepted two internships in Taiwan in the summer of 2018: two months with a city government and two months with a university. And I would be dishonest if I didn’t admit they weighed on my mind. I was a foreigner coming into a work environment where the spoken language wasn’t my mother tongue, and where the tacit cultural expectations weren’t ones I was familiar with. …

About

Blake Anderson

San Diego-based writer. Interested in urban planning, languages, cultures, travel, history, and fiction.

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