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Finding Joy in Language Learning

The spring language competition has become something of a small tradition here in DILA. Students look forward to hearing their classmates’ chants, songs, and short lectures. For the students who take part in the competition, this is a unique opportunity to get additional instruction from their language teachers outside of the classroom.

During language classes, it often feels like most of our time is spent trying to wrap our minds around some difficult grammar point, flipping franticly through various dictionaries in search of a clue about the meaning of this or that word, or scouring desperately the various electronic resources and tools available to us. But when we find no joy in learning— or any endeavor requiring sustained effort, it is difficult to persevere and reach our goal. The Buddha himself recognized that experiencing a modicum of joy ( pīti in Pali) is an essential ingredient for reaching the fruits of the path.

During a lecture given last semester on the issue of creating Buddhist liturgy for Western practitioners, Dr. Stephen Wilcox made us think about the role of chanting in religious practice, showing how the emotions of elation, love, or serenity generated through chanting can serve as an encouragement, strengthening our resolve by way of experiencing—even if only momentarily—a taste of the peace and easefulness that we strive after in our practice.

This insight into the sustaining virtues of chanting was not lost on the Indian sages of old. Nāgārjuna is often remembered as a great philosopher, but we seldom consider his career as an accomplished poet, composing works with such evocative titles as the Hymn to the Supreme Truth orthe Ode to the Incomparable One (respectively Paramārthastava and Niraupamyastava in Sanskrit).



When language learning becomes a struggle and gives rise to feelings of frustration and discouragement—which is not infrequent, especially among students of classical languages, it may be useful to let go of one’s impatient desire for mastery of the language and try rather to find joy in the process of learning itself. Learning a new language and reaching a certain degree of mastery is, in truth, a lifelong process which cannot unfold naturally when sustained only by one’s thirst for some immediate understanding of the wisdom contained in the scriptures. One should be able to experience some benefit at each stage of one’s study, rather than endure in the hope of some great future payoff. In this regard, there is no greater way to bring language learning alive with joy and appreciation than to engage in the tried and tested practice of memorization and chanting.

Here at the Language and Translation center we will continue to support students in making language learning a meaningful and joyous part of their lives as students and practitioners. We also invite you to pay us a visit a our office if you have any suggestions or want to help us in our endeavor. Our next event, the foreign language book sharing competition (外文書評比賽), is coming up soon in the beginning of next fall and I hope to see many of you then to share together the joys of language learning!




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