Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

–Mahatma Gandhi

I took a Chinese test … voluntarily

Yesterday I took the Hanyu Shuiping Kaoshi (HSK) Chinese Proficiency Test, level 2. Just about everyone I have talked to about this asks me, “Why?” Usually, people have a lot more to say, like “Why the hell would you do that?” “Why Chinese?” “Studying for a test? You’re not in school anymore!”

There are a number of these things I want to talk about. The first, and most important, is learning. You should never stop learning, not ever. The day I stop learning is the day I die, and that’s not an exaggeration. So I learn because it makes me feel alive, it lights a fire under parts of my brain that would otherwise lay dormant. Learning is my high.

So next – why Chinese? From junior high up through high school, I studied Spanish like most other kids who grew up where I did (though I think we had French and Latin as other options, but that was it). In the past, I have studied Hindi, I spent several years learning Japanese at a slow, staggered, inconsistent pace, and I’ve also read through some books on Egyptian Hieroglyphics and Arabic.

My reaction to spanish was one of indifference. Knowing it has come in handy a few times, but quite frankly speaking Spanish doesn’t use a part of my brain all that different from what I use to speak English (no, I’m not a neuroscientist, but that’s what my gut says).

I fell in love with learning Asian languages when I started exploring Hindi and Sanskrit. I like the fact that they look absolutely nothing like English and I love the fact that the grammar is very different than latin languages as well.

A little bit with Japanese but more so with Chinese, I love the ideograms, little pictures that represent words or concepts. This is a completely alien way of writing to people used to an alphabet where we stick letters together to form words. To me, there’s an intrinsic beauty to looking at Chinese writing that I just haven’t found in any other language (though Japanese is a close second, mostly because many of the Japanese Kanji were originally Chinese Hanji).

As to the test – I need goals. While I love learning, I can’t learn at random because I spin my wheels, I get frustrated and bored, and give up. When I learn a new computer programming language, I set a goal for the kind of application I want to write with that language and then I get moving. With Chinese, I needed to set a goal to measure my progress and the best way to do that was through certification with a proficiency test.

I know this doesn’t seem to have much to do with writing, but my love of language is why I love writing, and the more I learn about other languages and other cultures, the better I get at writing and crafting stories.


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