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Post-College Language Learning

How to Learn Chinese in one of the whitest cities in America.

It’s been a parade the past few months on Facebook as recent graduates from my alma mater announce new jobs, move to new cities and start their lives with all the fanfare of their 1,000+ friends on social media. But slowly, the balloons and streamers have started peeling away; the parade is over, and now we’re just a bunch of young adults cut loose to go into the world.

Which left me with one big question: how was I going to continue studying Chinese?

Boulder: whole lot of white people, not a lot of Asians.

All my serious language learning so far happened in the context of college life—study abroad, formal classes, language competitions and so on. Oklahoma didn’t have a lot of Mandarin speakers just strolling around, so going through the university was my only way to find them.

Study abroad is fine and dandy, but it's not a long-term solution for language learning.

As a post-grad who has cut strings from his alma mater, I had to start getting creative on how to keep up my East Asian swagger.

Going Strong on Chinese in the Mountain State

Surprisingly, I think I am now banking even more hours per week speaking Chinese then I did in school. Even though Boulder is hardly the multi-cultural mecca of the United States, I’ve managed to cobble together a strategy that is working fairly well.

  • Living in an international community center (the Chinese flock to here)
  • Going to English classes for foreigners (They love it when you can use Chinese to teach them English)
  • Find other Americans who study Chinese (三人行,必有我)
  • Hang with Chinese graduate students from CU (from masters to post doc, they always seem to be obsessed with teaching Americans slang and curse words. Just kidding. Sort of.)
  • Reading and writing (write one Chinese essay a week, read one small Chinese book a week, and muscle my way through translating a few verses of the Bible)
  • One-on-one tutor (My tutor is 70+ years old and left Mainland China around the time Mao Ze Dong’s Communist government was taking over. You better believe she’s got stories)
Hang with internationals, and you're bound to find a few Mandarin speakers.
"Let There be Light" / “要有光"

Picking up Language No. 3 (Slowly)

안녕하세요? = Hello = Korean = Language No. 3

I’ve been wrestling with the idea of starting a third language since I got back from China last Christmas. I toyed with the idea of tackling a European language, but I just didn’t have interest. I finally settled on Korean; between the financial restructuring in the 90’s and the powerhouse entertainment industry that took over the country, South Korea is becoming an interesting country to follow right now.

The genesis of my Korean studies is like how I started Chinese three years ago—slowly, sporadically and with scattershot methodology. I have a textbook, an online course, a podcast and a notebook. That’s about it.

So far, the journey with No. 3 is slow—I’ve picked up maybe half the alphabet and have grabbed onto a few very specific phrases from rote memorization. It’s an easier language than Chinese, but between work, hiking, volunteering and learning Chinese, Korean is following the “slow and steady” as opposed to the “intensive and comprehensive” route.

End of College ≠ End of Learning

I knew before I left college that the process of learning is something that I enjoy and did not want to lose in my life. It manifests in different ways, but one of the most rewarding and challenging ones is language learning. I also knew that after the fanfare of graduation ended, it would be up to me to push myself. I am no longer accountable to grades and professors.

Continuous learning is one of the core disciplines that I want to instill in my life while I am still young. I’m a firm believer than learning, both in formalized accredited academia and individual pursuits, enriches the life and pays dividends over the course of it.

College is over, but my education is nowhere near from complete. 加油,화이팅

, let’s go!

P.S. I turned 23 today. Thanks to friends and family who reached out, here's proof that I'm living life happy and spending every weekend on the trails.
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