Language learning speaks volumes for new understanding

Updated: 2013-08-02 09:00

By Cui Jia in Urumqi (China Daily)

  Print Mail Large Medium  Small 分享按钮 0

The culture carrier

Zhu said she's been admonished by Chen so many times that's she's accustomed to it, "Although most of us are learning Uygur as a hobby, Chen is still very strict."

When Chen noticed that some of the students in Zhu's class weren't giving 100 percent, she paused and asked them to speak louder to "wake their brains up". "It's disrespectful to speak to people using poor pronunciation," she said.

Chen requires all her students to be able to sing a song and read a poem in Uygur. "There are many respectful expressions in the language, especially those used to address elderly people. Language is the carrier of culture. When people understand each other's cultures, misunderstandings can be eliminated and that will, hopefully, resolve many of the conflicts in Xinjiang."

Duo Yan, 56, has been studying Uygur for approximately a year. She has made such good progress that she attends Chen's advanced class and is able to conduct relatively complicated conversations. One of the added benefits of learning the language is financial.

"I went to buy some dried dates from a street vendor a couple of days ago. When I asked the price in Uygur, he looked a little surprised but then smiled and said he'd give me a discount because I'd spoken to him in his own language," said Duo, beaming with pride. She added that it wasn't the first time that had happened.

"As someone born and raised in Xinjiang, I think it's a pity I'm unable to speak Uygur properly. It's not an easy language to learn, especially for older people like me, but I am surrounded by teachers, such as the street vendors," she said.

Duo works for a company that sells elevators. Because she has to do household chores after her evening classes, she has developed the habit of arriving at work about 20 minutes early so she can review the points she's learned the night before. She also takes her textbook to the offices of a nearby company that runs a Uygur website so she can practice with staff members during the lunch break.

When she offers tea to Uygur clients in their own language, they often ask if the company sent her to learn it. When they discover that she took the course of her own volition, they give her the thumbs up. "I think it's helped the company seal a few deals," Duo said.

Chen said Duo is a diligent student, but she needs to put more emotion into her spoken language, and that it should be a relatively straightforward task for a Han Chinese raised in Xinjiang, because the intonations of the Uygur language have long been integrated with the Xinjiang dialect.

Duo said she wishes her parents had taken her to learn the language when she was a child, like many of her classmates at the school. "I envy the speed at which they master pronunciation," she said.