The Best Way to Tackle a Second Language is by Conquering Your First Language

There is a very famous set phrase in Chinese history, saying: “know yourself and then know your enemies, and you shall not put your army in danger in hundreds of battles.” This phrase was taken from The Art of War by a historical person named Sun Zi around BC 515- BC 512.

A little bit more background about the author and his name: “Sun” is the author’s family name. “Zi” is the respectful way to address a renowned man in ancient Chinese society. In the form of Chinese characters, “Sun Zi” is translated into “孙子“. And his original name was actually “Sun Wu”. Therefore, “Sun” was his family name and “Wu” was his given name” which means “military, vigorous and martial art”.

Let’s extend to another piece of knowledge that might make you feel more connected with the culture of Chinese names. For example, everyone knows about “Confucius”. In the form of Chinese characters, “Confucius” is translated into “孔子”. And the way how Chinese people pronounce “孔子“ is “Kong Zi”. But the second Chinese character “子“ simply means that people respect him to a degree to name him “子“, and that is not his original given name.

Alright! Let’s not get lost in the details. The reason why I want to talk about that set phrase lies in the fact that this philosophy does shadow the truth in second language learning. As the title demonstrates, “the best way to tackle a second language is by conquering your first language.” Let me put in this way: As a Chinese, I regard Chinese language as my “friend” and English language as my “enemy”. Therefore, my first step to tackle English language is actually by knowing more about my own language. You would be fascinated by the fact that learning ancient Chinese grammar has just as the same amount of headache as learning English grammar to a native Chinese person.

Therefore, for you who are learning Chinese as a second language, your first step is not directly tacking Chinese language, but actually going back to make sure you have a good foundation in your own English language. This comment seems hurtful! But believe me, your endeavor would soon be paid off. When my teaching assistants and I were interviewing over 1,000 students for ZY’s English learning program in 2011, I made sure that our applicants understood the importance of loving our own Chinese language before they start our normal English classes. The first three months were spent on diving in reading many Chinese ancient books, proses and literature. Once they were done with the first step (knowing themselves), we moved them forward to the next challenge (knowing their enemy).

Again! I want to remind you of the March 18, 2019 announcement. Stay close with us, and you would not regret. For those who want to use this set phrase in either spoken or written way, here is what you need:

  1. English Translation: know yourself and then know your enemies, and you shall not put your army in danger in hundreds of battles (you shall not be defeated).

  2. Chinese Characters: 知己知彼,百战不殆。

  3. Chinese Pronunciation: zhī jǐ zhī bǐ , bǎi zhàn bú dài

#Chinese language#second language#Chinese history#tackle