Thursday, December 20, 2012

Learn a New Language for the New Year

I love the idea of inclusive design rather than accessible design because it casts a wider net.  Language, for example,  gets overlooked because a lot of us born in Canada get by with our mother tongue. I don't think we appreciate the hard work that comes with mastering a language as well as the barriers. Imagine trying to explain medical conditions, legal and financial issues in Mandarin?

I think, now, more than ever is the best time to learn a new language. For one, it provides a little bit of understanding for what our New Canadians go through. It's also good for our brains and the apps that are available now make langauge even more ....accessible ;).

My background is European and I took a Mandarin course in 2000. Mandarin is very different from English :) . It is character not alphabet based. There is a phonetic alphabet, pinyin, to help you with the sound of the characters but,  if you read books or newspapers you, essentially, need to memorise the characters. This was my hurdle. Luckily Toronto had many Chinese signs and even newspapers, but if I didn't know the characters it was very hard for me to find their meaning in the dictionary. Also, phrases were very hard to grasp. For example, the Chinese character for "big" means something completely different if it is placed with other characters.

Fast forward to today, my child and I are both learning Mandarin. But now, we have YouTube to help us sing "ba luo bo" :).  I can use Google Translate with my pinyin keyboard to help me figure out Chinese phrases as well as their pronounciation. I can take out a Chinese book from our Toronto libraries (btw thank you Toronto libraries :)) and use an OCR app to obtain the meaning as well as the pinyin.

With the tech that we have today, I actually feel there is a chance that I, or maybe my child :) can be fluent in Chinese. But for now, the journey is an enjoyable one and maybe this could be your new year's resolution.

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