Reed Language Learning Q&A with Sierra Abbott, Reed alumni and Chinese major

Deciding to take a Reed language class may seem daunting for some students, but it’s very doable and rewarding, and you may even find yourself majoring in a language you picked up at Reed! We interviewed recent ’23 grad Sierra Abbott about her journey as a Chinese major beginning from scratch her first year:

What made you decide to start learning a language at Reed?

I had always loved learning foreign languages in school! I took Spanish and Latin in high school, and wanted to continue learning more languages in college. I started learning Chinese in the first semester of my freshman year!

How did you decide on the language you chose to learn?

I was interested in learning a language that used a different writing system than the ones I was used to. I had previously thought about learning Chinese, but never really found the time. Also, I was a bit intrigued by the myth that Chinese is one of the hardest languages to learn, so I wanted to see for myself just how hard it would be to learn!

What were some memorable moments from Reed language classes?

In first and second year Chinese, the Chinese language scholar would teach class one day a week. These lessons were always super fun! We’d usually do a review of the grammar and vocabulary from whichever chapter we were on, and then play at least one game. My favorite game was Word King, where one student would face away from the board, which had a vocabulary word on it, and everyone else would try to explain the word so that the person could guess it!

The first week or so of first year Chinese is dedicated to learning proper pronunciation of the different sound components, which often involves the whole class saying strings of different sounds/tones in unison. I remember all of us cracking up because it sounded more like a chorus practice than a language class. If you’re ever walking around the bottom floor of Eliot Hall during the first few weeks of school and think you hear a chorus practicing, it’s just the first-year Chinese students.

What differences did you perceive in Reed language learning versus language learning at different institutions?

Language learning at Reed is definitely a lot more intensive than the language learning I did at my high school. From what I can tell based off of what I’ve heard from friends studying languages at other schools, Reed is also a bit more intensive than other colleges. It can be a bit demanding at times, but I think students studying languages at Reed are able to get a much better grasp of the language a lot quicker than would be possible anywhere else.

Any tips for the quickest way to improve at a language?

I think the most important thing is to find ways to keep yourself interested in the language, so you’re motivated to keep studying and immersing yourself as much as possible in the language! Reed has a lot of opportunities for this (conversation tables, language house event nights, talking with language scholars, etc.) that everyone should definitely take full advantage of! There’s also a lot of things you can do on your own like watching TV or listening to music in whichever language you’re learning! For me, the first show I watched in Chinese was 偶像练习生, and I really like the artists 草东没有派对 (No Party for Cao Dong), 薛之谦 (Joker Xue), and G.E.M.!