When I was a teenager, I thought it was cool to be able to say “I love you” in other languages. Did knowing how to express that sentiment multi-lingually ever appeal to you too? As a high school English teacher in Canada, then as a college and university teacher in China, my students and I had fun with those three words. Here is one of my experiences.
How a Grammar Lesson in China Turned into Love!
Going off on a tangent can be a lot of fun at times. Such was the case one afternoon with one of my first year classes at the Harbin University of Science and Technology. I was getting bored with the grammar lesson so asked, “How do you say ‘I love you’ in Mandarin Chinese?”
My students perked up with surprise. “You know,” I continued with a twinkle in my eyes, “it’s the most important thing you need to learn when you study another language.”
“Wǒ ài nǐ,” a few students chorused! It’s a little like “Woe Eye Knee.” Does that sound romantic to you? With its variable tones, up and down and even, Mandarin can sound a little sing-songy sometimes.
“I want to see what it looks like,” I said. “Will somebody please come up and write it on the board? Both in characters and in pinyin, and help me to say it right.” Everyone was now wide awake and smiling![Pinyin is Mandarin sounds expressed using the Western alphabet with markers to indicate the tones. “Wǒ ài nǐ,” is an example.]
A girl wrote the characters and pinyin and showed me with body language how I might get the tones right.
“Who knows how to say ‘I love you’ in any language other than Mandarin and English?” I asked. Nobody, so I happily shared from my repertoire.
“Je t’aime – French; ti amo & ti voglio bene – Italian; te amo – Spanish; Ich liebe dich – German; Я тебя люблю (Ya teeb-ya lyu’bl’yu) – Russian.”
I had fun exaggerating the sounds and asked, “Which sounds the most romantic?” Je t’aime and ti amo were the winners. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, they were telling me the story of Romeo and Juliet.
A Little Girl Learns Mandarin
I smile at this little sweetheart saying the words then launching into the chorus of a cute puppy love song (“I love you like a mouse loves rice”–Wo ai ni, ai zhi ni, jiu xiang laoshu ai da mi”).
“In China we have our own Romeo and Juliet story. It’s called Liáng Zhù (梁祝), Butterfly Lovers. Maybe 2000 years old,” a young man informed me. What the students shared was so beautiful that I will save it for another blog. (In the meantime, you may like to look up the story. The music is just a little heart-melting too.)
Our lesson on love that day was inadvertent, beautiful and memorable. I think it’s pretty safe to say that all people love love. It’s absolutely true to say that I loved my Chinese students. How could I not, with their unpretentious, kind-hearted ways? Thinking about them, I get nostalgic and all smooshy inside.
Love in Any Language, Sandi Patty
I’ve heard it said that love is a universal language. Yes, there are the words. Then there’s the body language, smiles and tender looks included. It’s a friendly, feel-good language to communicate with. Music’s a universal language too, so here is a little song about the subject at hand.
Do you believe love is a universal language? If so, what does that mean? What does it sound like or look like? Do you know how to say “I love you” in other languages? To you, what’s the most romantic sounding language? Questions, questions! I’d love to read your answers and/or anything else love-related you may care to share. The comment section is below. 🙂