Rev. Msgr. Cuong M. Pham’s Reflection on Learning Chinese 范門耿蒙席學習中文感想

msgr-coung-m-phamI have always been fascinated with languages from a very young age. In Saigon, I began studying English as early as sixth grade and it quickly became one of my favorite subjects. The choice turned out to be providential as my family eventually resettled in the United States as refugees when I was about to enter high school. The proficiency in English made my transitions a little easier, opening up a whole new world. Overtime, English became as if my mother tongue.  

As I entered the Seminary in Douglaston, New York, however, I fell in love with classical Latin and decided to pursue it as a minor at St. John’s University. At the same time, I felt a strong attraction to Spanish and decided to minor in this language. It was a decision that I remain most thankful to this day, for it literally opened up limitless opportunities for deepening relationships, and experiencing incredible joy in ministry.

When my bishop decided to send me to Rome for advanced studies, I never expected that one day Italian would completely win over my heart. With only a three-week crash course in Florence, I struggled to follow the lengthy theological and canonical discourses given at the Pontifical Gregorian University. It was not until after I graduated and was subsequently appointed to the Pontifical Council for Legislative Texts, a dicastery at the Vatican, that the bella lingua would become my daily language. Like French, a Romance language that I consider to be a favorite hobby worth all the trouble of flying over to the Alliance Française in Paris for a few weeks of immersion, Italian has become a love affair that never ceases to fascinate me.

After the sixth language, I never expected learning another one. That is, until recently, when I reconnected with Debbie Wang, a friend from my seminary days who speaks fluent Chinese and has an extraordinary love for that culture. We shared together our deep concerns for the pastoral needs of the growing Chinese population in Diaspora. It is Debbie’s zeal and passion for the work of evangelization among the Chinese people that inspired me to take on this new language despite my fears and hesitation.

Currently, I am taking her online classes through Skype, with the technical assistance of her husband Steven. Learning Chinese has been both interesting and challenging as it is unlike any other language I’ve known so far. I find it very difficult to memorize the countless complicated characters and their tones, in addition to remembering their Ping-Ying scripts. I knew it was a hard language to learn, but I never thought how tough it was going to be. If it were not for the strong desire to preach the Good News to the Chinese people, and Debbie’s own faithful dedication, I would have just given up pursuing the goal. In fact, her uniquely creative method of teaching the language through short conversations that focus on the “Catholic vocabulary” has made it easier for me to approach Chinese through prayers, liturgies, stories of the Saints and other already familiar religious topics. So far, my fear is slowly replaced by joy. The prospect of being able to preach Christ with confidence to these wonderful brothers and sisters in their own tongue is keeping me going.  ( From Rome, Italy )

我從小就對於各種語言感興趣。在胡志明市,我從六年級開始學習英文。很快,英文便成為了我最喜歡的課程之一。我的這一選擇是幸運的,因為在我快要上高中的時候,我的家人跟著難民潮來到美國。因對英文的熟練不僅幫我更容易適應過渡期,還為我打開了一個新的世界。隨著時間一天天過去,英文似乎漸漸地成為了我的母語。

當我進入紐約道格拉斯頓 (Douglaston) 的神學院學習,我愛上了古典拉丁語課程並決定在聖若望大學輔修這一專業。與此同時,我又被西班牙語所吸引,於是決定也輔修西班牙語。我至今都感謝自己的這一決定,因為這一決定給了我無限的機會,幫助我增進關係,體驗福傳的巨大喜悅。

當我的主教決定把我送去羅馬進修,我從未想過,有一天我會愛上意大利語。我僅在Florence)佛羅倫薩上了三週的速成課程。我對於(Pontifical Gregorian University)宗座國瑞大學冗長的各種神學以及教會法講座聽的很吃力。直到後來,我畢業後被派去梵蒂岡宗座法典立法委員會,(bella lingua美麗的語言 -指意大利語),才成為我的日常用語。正如法語 -這一浪漫的語言值得我飛去巴黎的法語聯盟學院經過幾週實際的當地學習一樣。意大利語也變成一個了令我瘋狂著迷的愛好。

在學習了第六種語言後,我從未想到自己會去學另一種語言,直到最近,我跟 Debbie 重新取得聯繫。她是我還在修院時候認識的朋友。那時候她已㑹講一口流利的中文,並且對於中國文化有著非比尋常的熱愛。我們倆一起討論了對於逐漸增加的海外華人群體的靈性需求的深切憂慮。也正是 Debbie 對於給華人傳福音的熱情讓我戰勝了我內心的害怕,不再猶豫,決定學習中文這一新語言。

現在我正在通過 SKYPE 學習由她和她先生 Stephen 辦的中文網絡課程。學中文是一件趣味和挑戰並存的事。對我而言,背誦那些數不清的複雜文字和聲調非常困難,更別提還要記憶它們的拼音字母。我雖然早就知道中文很難學,但是我從沒想到有這麼難。如果不是有心中強烈的想要向華人傳福音的信念作為支撐,如果沒有 Debbie 的堅持不懈地努力,我可能早就放棄了。事實上,她獨特創新的教學方法讓我學習中文容易多了。她通過簡短對話教我們天主教詞彙;通過禱文,宗教禮儀,聖人故事,以及其他更熟悉的宗教話題來幫助我們中文。目前,我的害怕逐漸被喜悅所替代。讓我一直努力學習下去的動力來自於一個遠景-充滿自信地向這些親愛的兄弟姊妹們用他們的母語宣講主基督的奧跡!(來自羅馬, 意大利)