Prove your humanity

Grok Magazine sits down with Caitlin de Wind, a second-year student who is currently studying a double major in Mandarin and Japanese, as we strive to learn more about her motivations, experiences, and future aspirations for becoming a multilingual student.

Having been asked about her motives for learning another language, Caitlin reveals that her previous studies of Japanese mainly influenced her to pursue linguistics as a part of her course at Curtin University.

“It wasn’t really a decision… it was more that I had to. The school that I went to was one of those continuation schools, where I had a primary school and a high school. It was mandatory for us to learn Japanese.” Despite the subject being compulsory, she eventually grew fond of learning Japanese towards the end of primary school, as it was something she excelled in. “My passion was further developed into a career aspiration once I reached high school. I wanted to do translating – basically, be the messenger between international conversations.”

Caitlin goes on to reminisce about an encouraging piece of advice that one of her previous teachers gave her. “I was told by my high school teacher to find a sweet-spot between something you enjoy and something you’re good at.”

Upon being questioned as to why she chose to learn two languages at the same time, Caitlin explains that with Japanese already under her belt, she still wanted to expand into Mandarin due to her family background. “I’m half Singaporean, stemming from my dad’s side. My siblings and I look more like our mum, so sometimes people don’t even realise he’s my dad until I tell them.”

She conveys that although she would often visit her dad’s side of the family, she wasn’t really taught to learn any other languages besides English, resulting in her feeling as if she couldn’t completely embrace her ethnicity. We also learn that another one of Caitlin’s inspirations derives from her aunt, who unfortunately lost the ability to communicate after brain surgery. Even though she preserved her Mandarin, she was still forced to learn English again, and this occurrence was something that impacted Caitlin heavily, increasing her desire to learn and connect with her family.

After being told of her inspirations to pursue linguistics, we begin to shift the conversation onto her current experiences with studying the two languages. Due to the one of the Japanese alphabets known as “kanji” being borrowed from traditional Chinese, we asked Caitlin about whether she tends to mix up the two languages from time to time, and if so, how she manages to overcome this issue. “I get them mixed up all the time. It’s even worse this semester because I have my Japanese and Mandarin classes back-to-back on two consecutive days.” Caitlin continues to describe her difficulties with memorising the characters and the contextual factors that play into their correct pronunciation. Surprisingly, she finds that her reading comprehension with Chinese is steadier and more developed. However, when it comes down to writing and speaking, she finds herself becoming overwhelmed. “There’s a girl in my Chinese class who’s also studying Japanese, and sometimes we both end up writing in a mix between Japanese and Chinese because it all gets so confusing!”

When asked about the methods she uses to help avoid confusion, she explains that being patient with herself and acknowledging that she’s not always going to be correct has always supported her throughout her journey.

“This applies for any class environment with an educator and a student. Just take your time and know that it’s fine to make mistakes.”

Our conversation with Caitlin progresses onto the opportunities she’s received while studying at Curtin University. “I’ve applied to go on exchange to a university in Japan for the first semester of next year.” Having stated this, she then discusses her plans to obtain more experience in professional work environments. “I’m currently a part of Curtin Marketing Association, and through that, there’s been a lot of events where I’ve been able to do some marketing and networking.” Alongside her contributions to the student-run organisation, she hopes that her efforts will ultimately grant her a profession within the translating field.

Reaching the conclusion of our interview, we ask Caitlin if she has any advice for students who plan on studying languages at Curtin University. “As a student who is currently studying at Curtin, everything is just so well-structured. The teachers are all very good, and they’re able to tell exactly what you’re not understanding and then explain it to you so clearly.”

In addition to the structure of the courses, Caitlin articulates how all the tutors are extremely fun and engaging with their students, always going out of their way to make their classes as enjoyable as possible. “One of my Japanese teachers had three rules. One, you’re allowed to eat in class. Two, it’s okay to make mistakes. And three, if your phone rings in class, you have to stand up and sing a song in Japanese.”