A Journey on the Silk Road

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Molly and Andrew at Tash Rabat, a Silk Road outpost in the Kyrgyz Republic.

My husband, Andrew, and I just got back from a journey on the Silk Road. These sorts of trips always make me feel uncommonly rewarded for all the work I’ve put into language study, as it occasionally seems that the very scales of life and death hang on the knowledge of a few vocabulary words. Additionally, there’s nothing like the successful application of a new language in a new culture and place to incentivize more study.

While Rosetta Stone Mandarin by no means teaches you every word you need to know to go gallivanting along the Silk Road, it gives you a solid base upon which to learn all of these words. Here’s an example of a conversation I had with a hotel concierge in Turpan, a small Uyghur city outside of Urumqi, in Xinjiang Province, China.

Molly (speaking in Mandarin, while trying to check out of the hotel): We have to leave now.

Concierge (with a bored stare): …

Molly: We will not return.

Concierge (the meaning of this beginning to dawn): You want to check out.

Molly: Yes! Check out.

It wasn’t particularly elegant, I have to admit. It would be infinitely easier to say the perfect phrase in bold and certain tones. But it’s really satisfying to be at the point where we can describe what needs to happen— and then to be able to learn new words from these conversations.

Another language-learning milestone from this trip was using our Mandarin to begin learning a new language—in this case, Uyghur. While you occasionally meet a Uyghur in Xinjiang Province who doesn’t speak any Mandarin, most speak at least some. We arrived in Xinjiang without any knowledge of Uyghur food or language, so everything we learned was from conversations. In Mandarin, we could ask the names of Uyghur foods or inquire about the Uyghur words for “thank you” and “goodbye.” This is the first time I’ve learned a new language in a medium other than English.

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