Language Study as a Cultural Gateway

From the "Julia Child School of Cultural Appreciation," I realized that if I was really to appreciate the finer points of the co-evolution of tea with thousands of years of Chinese cultural history, I should really try to learn (one of) the language(s). [[note: Chinese people speak dozens of dialects across the huge country, but the official language of The Party is Mandarin - more on that some other post]] So I have recently begun studying Mandarin Chinese using Duolingo.

I see that now, looking at the world stage with East Asia on the rise, we really need a "Julia Child" moment facing toward China to help bridge the divide. As the interest in tea grows and pathways to access are on the rise post Reform-Period China, how can Americans navigate what looks like a very mysterious cultural divide with language, history, culture, and customs wrapped together? I have started my exploration in this area with this question top of mind. 

Julia in her Cambridge Kitchen, 1978 -- Photo by Lynn Gilbert  CC BY-SA 4.0

Julia in her Cambridge Kitchen, 1978 -- Photo by Lynn Gilbert CC BY-SA 4.0

I am a big fan of Julia Child's work. She pioneered television cooking shows and teaching America about the finer art of French living and lifestyle at a time when convenience foods were on the rise. America's obsession with wine and fine food was in part possible because of people like Julia Child. She took the time to take Americans to the source of French lifestyle - their gardens, open-air markets, kitchens, and long meals full of food, wine, and laughter. She did it by immersing herself in the language and culture and then building a bridge and inviting America to come along. 

Studying Mandarin is humbling as a Westerner (et j'ai etudé française en école. Ce n'est pas ma premier lange). But, the more I read books about tea history, and learn how the four tones influence meaning behind a character and create the cultural touchstone of double meanings, the more I am drawn in, deeply fascinated. I peel back the onion.

Duolingo has provided a good start. However, the tones are not always quite right. I've had folks recommend Pimsleur's to me, which I can get at one of the local libraries. I think that will be my next step in this adventure.

谢谢你!(Thank you!)

Have you studied another language? What was it and how did you do it?