Monday, August 7, 2017

Cultural Excursions and Utilizing Language Skills

This past week I had the opportunity to learn how to make a traditional Taiwanese pastry: Pineapple Cake! One of my favorite things about coming to Taiwan is being able to eat pineapple cakes. So, when I was given this opportunity, I quickly accepted! What made this experience even greater was the fact that I would also be given the chance to learn about Taiwanese wedding culture. Currently engaged, I am in the process of planning my own wedding for next May! This excursion, organized by professors at the International Chinese Language Program at National Taiwan University, was right up my alley.

Before our trip, students were given research assignments surrounding pineapple cakes, Taiwanese weddings, and holidays or festivals in general. This allowed, or forced, students to learn new vocabulary related to these topics. Beyond studying new vocabulary, we were able to examine the history behind the Taiwanese culture and cuisine we love!

While background research is helpful, there is nothing like hands on experience to solidify your studies. So, I was excited to get my hands dirty mixing and shaping pineapple cakes! Initially, I thought making these pastries would be difficult. But I was pleasantly surprised to find that the process is quite simple! With only a little butter, sugar, egg, flour, and pineapple (of course), you can quickly whip up a batch of these signature Taiwanese pastries. While my pineapple cakes were baking, I was given the chance to try on traditional wedding dresses, and a couple of students even volunteered to have an impromptu mock wedding. (At least I hope it was not official!) Being able to compare the marriage process and culture in Taiwan to that in the United States was quite interesting. And this brings me to my point…Making connections to your surroundings, whether by recognizing parallels or differences with your own culture or interests, is key for learning a new language. The vocabulary which you can make a connection to is most successfully retained.

So, as you travel abroad or begin your own language training at home, be sure to explore your interests using the new language. You will gain a greater appreciation for your new language abilities and find yourself improving at a much quicker rate! As for me, there will be many pineapple cakes along the path to fluency in Mandarin!

Katelyn DeNap

George Washington University - Elliott School of International Affairs
M.A. Security Policy Studies
Organization of Asian Studies – Vice President
Sigur Center 2017 Asian Language Fellow

National Taiwan University - International Chinese Language Program, Taiwan

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