Relearning the Past

Many years ago I studied Mandarin Chinese as part of my teaching degree. It was my first chance to learn a language, and I loved it – not just learning a language, but learning such a meticulous, neat and very beautiful language. For someone who was never neat at handwriting (still am not!) I was obsessive with tracing characters and learning stroke order – spent hours every day, which was reflected in my precise characters, and my grades. I loved it! Unfortunately, we started our specialisation with two years left of our degree – sufficient for most languages, but to pass the proficiency test required to teach Mandarin, you needed the third year of study. (Mandarin is a very tricky language, because of those characters , and too, voice intonation that affects meaning.)

I always planned to finish my language studies externally, but life was busy (I loved classroom teaching … then mothering … and writing) and sadly I never did finish that third year of language study. Worse! As the years passed, I forgot much of what I had learnt – and loved!

When I spied this poetry collection a number of years ago, I had to have it. 300 Gems of Classical Chinese Poetry. I am so glad it includes both characters and Pinyin – because I definitely need the Pinyin to help with pronunciation and inflection. I see characters and I know I should know them – but I don’t. (How can a brain forget so much!)

Today, I was just going to share a poem with you from the book. A little gem…

Farewell Town
Fan Yun (451 – 503)

East and west of the Farewell Town
People part, going up and down.
When I left, like flowers fell snow;
Now I come, like snow, flowers blow.

Post done!

But then I got a little carried away, and this happened…

It’s very short. And simple! (Simplicity is key – because I’m hoping it avoids grammatical errors.) But I did it. A poem. In Chinese. (You’re right – the rhyme got lost in translation. And I am quite okay with that!) I was reliant on online resources*. (I have since hunted up my much-loved Chinese-English dictionary!!) But maybe I can tease my brain into remembering more… And what better way than through poetry. So much to love about that!

Something else I love… During the recent ‘Celebrating Our Stories’ tour, I met up with a former Yr 2 student who I taught almost (🙊) 25 years ago. She recalled that one of her favourite things was the unit where I incorporated my Chinese studies into our classroom – teaching them how to talk about their family. And then and there, with no rehearsal, she started speaking the family phrases we had learnt … with perfect intonation.🤯 I was astounded that she had retained something so precise from all those years ago! My 💓…

Wǒ hěn gāo xīng 。

*Resources I found helpful;
duckduckgo – Chinese English Dictionary

Tricia at The Miss Rumphius Effect is hosting Poetry Friday this week, with a moving poem about grief.

Post Script: Oooops. I scheduled this post on Tuesday… and then I remembered some of you talking about DuoLingo last week (I’m looking at you Mary Lee, et al.) and thought I might check it out – see if it would help with relearning Chinese… And it does! (Translation: Kat fell down a very big hole! I may be starting to remember more than I realised… Chinese conversations are rolling through my head. Mandarin is still addictive!!💖)


  1. Kat, this post fills me with so much joy! I’m blown away that you were able to write a poem in Chinese. Wow! I have to share this post with my daughter who just started taking mandarin a few weeks ago. She’s hoping to take a semester abroad in Shanghai–but we aren’t sure that the college requirements will match her schedule. She just wrote home for photos of family members so she can learn the words. Your talent never ceases to amaze me.
    I hope it’s OK to share this poem with my students?

    Liked by 1 person

    • I confess, I thought of you *often* as I wrote and played this week, Linda. So I’m glad it’s brought you joy.💓 And I’m excited for your daughter starting this journey. I hope she loves it as much as I do – but somehow, I think she’ll love it more! Yes, do share with your students. (And your daughter. 你好! 🙃)


  2. Very cool post, Kat! I didn’t know that you studied Chinese! I love that your student could still recite what she learned 🙂 My son has told me a little bit about Chinese intonation — sounds challenging to remember!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. So inspiring, Kat! I went to China for ten days years ago on a group tour and gained some appreciation for the sound the language and how meaning changes with intonation. How difficult it must be to learn and how fortunate that you got to study it for two years and can return to it if you like.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love reading about your background & early love of Mandarin & the poem is terrific, the characters look crisp & I am impressed. This sounds like quite a marvelous “rabbit hole” journey. I am so intrigued with you & others who choose a language with a different alphabet. I did French, though, like you, I’ve lost quite a bit, especially the speaking. Now you’ve inspired me to check out your sites & Linda’s! At the school where I taught students chose their own topics of study around which, with their help, I wove the curriculum. Two different ones studied Chinese as one of their units. The school (years ago, of course) bought each a Berlitz program for their studies. One is still here in Denver & started a Chinese language school (for beginners) & newsletter for those in the area studying the new language. The other is now in China teaching! Best wishes for more!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh wow. I loved reading this, Linda. Thank-you for sharing. That sounds like an amazing school program – to enable students to be so diverse in their topics of study. And then to see what they’ve gone on to do with it. Wow. So affirming! I think one of the reasons I didn’t pursue my language is because I’m married to a grazier – and therefore not in a metropolitan/language hub, to use it. I’m not expecting to get to proficiency with it, or make any career moves (I love being an author!) – but I just want to bring back that special joy.


  5. Oh Kat, what a delightful post! I’m so encouraged and, may I say, proud of you! Wow! You are inspiring me. I had never known another language enough to carry on a conversation, but living in an Arabic-speaking nation for eight years has expanded my goals in that area. I had been learning a lot about the complex language when Covid happened, I gave up my Arabic learning because. I could no longer spend time with my friend, whom I exchanged language lessons with. I switched to Spanish on Duolingo since I’ll be moving to California in a few months.

    What a perfect entrance back into Mandarin was the 300 Gems…book. Your poem is so sweet. I’ll look forward to your first rhyming poem in Chinese! Wow. You are an inspiration. Now, I should go look for a Spanish poetry book!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I too look forward to that first rhyming poem, Denise. I feel it may be even simpler than the above – but that’s okay.😹 (Gotta start somewhere!) Oh – another DuoLingo. That’s cool! My hubby was commenting just last night that it’s a shame we didn’t know about DuoLingo before our South American travels in 2017. Thank-you for being proud of me. That is so lovely!


  6. Kat, who knew that you studied Mandarin and that you remembered so much from your past. I know what a rabbit hole can do to time so thank you for offering a fun post this week, complete with a poem in another language.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Late to this post and to comment, but so worth reading! I love how you continue to challenge yourself to learn and grow as a poet and writer. I’ve never learned another language and think I never will. I should have done it when I was young. The characters are so beautiful and intriguing. Most of all I love the beauty of the simplicity. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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