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Guest Blog: Chinese Language Roundtable

When we all gathered on May 3rd, the topics (話題huà ) ranged from one student’s thesis on how environmental education is taught in moral education (思想品德 sī xiǎng pǐn dé) to complexities in communicating in Chinese or English so one can be understood.

As conversation flew around the group that included Taiwanese, mainland Chinese, a Hongkonger, American, Chinese-American and a Brit, it became clear that if you are a Chinese from China or from Taiwan, what is acceptable may be embarrassing just across the Taiwan Strait... and as cultural changes are occurring with rapidity, what was “formal” then is now too formal... and the conversation stalls.

This day, we marveled at Chinese word combinations that allow words to paint a picture. For example, the word “conflict” 冲突chōng tū includes “冲chōng” which means to rush or collide and 突 means ‘sudden’. This paints the image of rushing forward and suddenly hitting a wall... that would certainly be an apt description of “conflict”, both visually and mentally.

Often one discovers the depths of Chinese language through teaching it... and as one of our group members shared how the idiom “教学相长 jiāo xué xiāng zhǎng” suggests (教teach 学learn 相mutual 长growth). This beautifully expresses how the teacher and student learn in a collaborative way: we learn as we share our culture and our interesting points of view. Whether the glass is half empty or half full 半杯空  bàn bēi kōng or 半杯满bàn bēi mǎn depends on your point of view. 

The Chinese Language Table meets at Fox Intercultural Consulting’s headquarters in Portland on the first and third Friday the month. Starting at noon, we spend the hour catching up on news and in-depth discussions in Mandarin. 

Karen Morency was born in Taiwan, emigrating to Newfoundland at the age of 10, and then moved to Maine. Her love for the Chinese language and culture was renewed when she began teaching her children and other children in the 1990’s. Her East-meets-West personality is expressed in her alternative healing modalities, qigong, and tai chi.