The Way Forward With Heritage Languages

Singlanguages/ March 14, 2022/ Chinese, Heritage Language, Tamil

I’ve almost reached intermediate level with Tamil. I’ll consider myself intermediate when I can identify the grammar points in Tamil O level papers. I’ve hit a roadblock understanding the relative clause, also known as the adjectival clause, in Tamil. This then led me to reading up on this particular grammar point, which eventually led to a deeper understanding of what I must do for my Mandarin Chinese to improve further.

Mandarin Chinese is my heritage language. In technical terms, I’m a receptive bilingual, meaning I can understand Mandarin relatively well when I hear it, but I have trouble with more advanced sentences and cannot produce Mandarin sentences with ease. I had put a pause to learning Mandarin because I could converse well enough with people and my italki teachers could understand me. In other words, I’d already hit the intermediate plateau! I found grammar books for Mandarin and read through those, but I would grow bored of it every time I did so.

But I’ve hit something similar in Tamil. Sure, I’m not fluent, but I can hold a conversation with my italki teacher for an hour haltingly. This means that, if I so wished, I could give up here and move on to another language. Instead, I dove into grammar, and tried to read O level papers with help. Through my very slow efforts (it takes me an hour to read 2 paragraphs, with Krishna explaining words and grammar points to me), I find myself understanding Tamil, both written and spoken, better. So the way forward with my Mandarin is…

…to read more AND have the grammar points at hand to refer to. Grammar points require reinforcement, so I’ll need a) a TV show that I can stomach watching, probably a current affairs show, and b) books with pin yin annotated characters so that I can see the grammar points in action.

I also used to be frustrated at how slowly I read in Mandarin compared to English, but compared to my Tamil, my Mandarin reading skills are pretty fast! So it’ll be easier for me to stomach reading Mandarin more.

In summary, I need to intentionally practice my heritage language. I must seek out more difficult sentences on my own, rather than have a teacher teach me those sentences slowly. This will make the journey much more palatable!

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