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It's more than just a different language

I went to the public forum last Thursday on the possibility of a Chinese class in DLHS, fully knowing I wasn't about to sign up for the class next fall.

It was very different from what I had expected.

Rather than being a simple listing of the reasons why our school district should dig up $20,000 a year to teach the 40 kids who signed up Chinese, it happily turned out to be an immersive cultural experience.

China is an easy country to ignore, to dismiss as Communist Territory and move on to the countries that are more like us, God bless em'. And it's true that taking a Chinese class would be a much greater adjustment than say, German, which is just like learning another English: individual letters, recognizable punctuation, similar word order.

Replace the with das, know a few nouns and verbs (which sometimes sound like ours, as a bonus), and you're well on your way to having a working knowledge of the language.

The Chinese language is not like that at all. It's much more akin to traveling to a totally new galaxy and trying to pick up one of the alien tongues, that is not formed of words, but images, pictures that signify different facets of the human experience.

Yet, different as it may be, Chinese is a deceptively simple language to learn. The Chinese language has no plural: "five dogs" is simply written as "five dog" ("five is already plural, the teacher explained, and I couldn't argue), and no definite grammatical rules.

The Chinese perceive the world through a totally different lens than us, and much of that comes through in their language. Using the Chinese language, one can more directly put the feelings on paper.

It seems like something is lost in turning our feelings into words and our words into coherent sentences that have a subject and a verb and everything in its proper order and place.

Chinese has no such rules or logic -- one can be extremely creative simply by toying with the structure of the language itself, never mind the content of what you have to say. It would be very fun, from what I understand, to be a Chinese novelist or poet.

That's not to say that either English or Chinese is better or worse: they're just different languages, used for analyzing the world in two totally different ways. To be a single person and have multiple such thought-processes opened simultaneously in one's mind is to be a totally open-minded, well-rounded, and sublime human being.

If our community and school board pull it together, 40 kids will learn a new language very different from their own, and in doing so, get the opportunity to have their minds opened to an entirely new way of processing the world around them, a new way to communicate with other humans.

They'll start thinking in terms of both and and instead of either and or, stop looking at the world through one-dimensional Western eyes, start being balanced people in the fullest, most all-encompassing sense of the term.

But better yet, these 40 students will be exposed to the beauty of a culture that they've likely assumed is evil. They will hopefully realize that a corrupt government doesn't make a bad country. And, perhaps most importantly, will be able to approach the Chinese people with knowlege and understanding.

Make that 41.

Nathan Kitzmann is a junior at Detroit Lakes High School.