In applied linguistics we were taught that the best way to learn a language is to use it. How do you use a language? By making meaning. Meaning-making is pretty much the opposite of memorising vocab lists and taking part in feeble and uninspiring scripted dialogues.
My ideal in learning Chinese has been to learn without making an effort to learn, to learn, as it were, by accident.
But the key to learning by accident is to have a need or a reason to make meaning in your would-be second tongue. And while I have a number of reasons for wanting to be able to speak Chinese, I have little actual need for making meaning on a daily basis.
Thus far my best efforts have involved an obsessive degree of online searching for information relating to the martial art I practise. I’ve learned quite a bit of incidental Chinese, can search online and perform fairly slow translations. But although there’s a surprising amount of transferable vocabulary from martial arts to everyday use, I have to face the fact that this interest is no longer enough to drive my learning.
The next step in my eccentric plan has been to learn the lyrics to some memorable Chinese songs. The vocab and grammar are generally more transferable, and if a song is good enough it’s hard not to sing along. What better approach to efficient language learning!
I’ve had this plan in mind for a number of years, but have been hamstrung by the limitations of popular Chinese music. Aesthetic appeal is somewhat subjective, so let’s just say that Chinese pop tends to be quite homogenous, and neither syrupy/nostalgic ballads nor rap are my style.
However, I’ve recently discovered an excellent little tumblr site that chronicles a range of Chinese Indie music! The odds of finding something interesting, memorable, and worth learning have dramatically increased.
First on the list is this track by 朴树/Pu Shu, titled 平凡之路/Ordinary Road.
I found both the song and the translation via fyeahchineseindie:
徘徊着的 在路上的 Those who are drifting down the road
你要走吗 via via Are you leaving now? via via
易碎的 骄傲着 Fragile and proud
那也曾是我的模样 That was how I once was.
沸腾着的 不安着的 Those who are passionate and restless
你要去哪 via via Where are you leaving for? via via
谜一样的 沉默着的 Like a mystery, and so sullen
故事 你真的 在听吗 Are you truly paying heed to the story?
我 曾经 跨过 山和大海 也穿过 人山 人海 I’ve crossed untold mountains and oceans, passed through crowds and crowds of people
我曾经拥有着一切 转眼都飘散如烟 Once, I had everything; but in the blink of an eye, it was all gone
我曾经 失落 失望 失掉 所有方向 Once, I was frustrated, desperate and lost
直到看见平凡才是唯一的答案 Until I saw the only answer has always been an ordinary road.
当你仍然 还在幻想 While you are still daydreaming
你的明天via via Your future via via
她会好吗 还是更烂 Will it better or get worse?
对我而言是另一天 To me it’s just another day
我曾经毁了我的一切 只想永远地离开 I once destroyed myself and wanted to leave forever
我曾经堕入无边黑暗 想挣扎无法自拔 I fell into an endless darkness, unable to save myself
我曾经像你像他像那野草野花 I used to be like you, like him, like wild flowers
绝望着 渴望着 哭着笑着平凡着 Full of despair and longing, crying, smiling and being ordinary
向前走 就这么走 就算你被给过什么 Go forward, as you are, no matter what you’ve suffered
向前走 就这么走 就算你被夺走什么 Go forward, as you are, no matter what has been taken away from you.
向前走 就这么走 就算你会错过什么 Go forward, as you are, even if you might miss things down the road
向前走 就这么走 就算你会 Go forward, as you are, no matter what…（Repeating）
我曾经问遍整个世界 从来没得到答案 I once asked the whole world, but never received an answer.
我不过像你像他像那野草野花 I used to be like you, like him, like wild flowers
冥冥中这是我 唯一要走的路啊 In the darkness, this became my only road
时间无言 如此这般 Time flies, just like that
明天已在眼前 Tomorrow is just around the corner
风吹过的 路依然远 With the breeze blowing, there is a long way to go.
你的故事讲到了哪 Your story, how much has been told?
*I took some liberties with the translations to preserve meaning