RESEARCH LIBRARY of Tomsk State University


30 May 2023
A foreign language as a new world: polyglot Sebastjan Jemec about the Chinese language and beyond

TSU Research Library International Resource Center hosts speaking clubs in eight languages. Two of them – German and Chinese – are moderated by Sebastjan Jemec, a post graduate student at the TSU Faculty of Historical and Political Sciences.

Sebastjan is from Slovenia. He has been studying foreign languages since his childhood. When he was 17, he went to Italy, studied at an international gymnasium, and then he enrolled at the University of Edinburgh for a bachelor’s degree program in the Chinese language and history.

“On the third year of my studies I went to China to the Zhejiang University as an exchange student, having learnt some grammar and a few words,” shares Sebastjan. “Then I started a master’s degree in Xiamen, a beautiful coastal city in South China. I was the only foreigner among 12 other first-year master students. It was very difficult: all the classes were in Chinese, there were teachers with a distinct local accent as the Chinese language is very diverse.”

But Sebasjan’s strong belief that keen interaction with foreign linguistic environment, which is very important but unfortunately not all can value and use it, helped him overcome those difficulties. His intensive immersion in that environment was rather successful: he wrote his course and graduate papers in Chinese.

“Learning Chinese, which is very different from my native Slovenian and other Indo-European languages, is definitely not easy for me even now,” admits Sebastjan. “I confuse sounds and sometimes don’t get some words in fluent speech. It’s ok and we shouldn’t be disappointed. One of my Chinese teachers shared a very wise thought with us: ‘Don’t be afraid to speak, be afraid of not to speak’, and it’s still relevant for me.”

According to Sebastjan’s opinion, speaking clubs are great for friendly communication. After he had entered the TSU Faculty of Historical and Political Sciences for postgraduate studies, he became an active participant and then a moderator of the German speaking club. Along with TSU instructors he was one of the readers of the dictation texts during the All-Russia open educational event Tolles Dictat-23 hosted by the International Resource Center of the Research Library.

“I think that speaking and listening are very important for learning a language that is why it is necessary to pay attention to pronunciation and vocabulary building regularly. They are the basis of interpersonal communication and depend from everyday interactions.”

Living in Tomsk now, Sebastjan is constantly communicating with Russian, Chinese and students of other nationalities. He is quite aware of all the aspects of their adaptation.

“While travelling the world, I’ve encountered a lot of difficult situations due to language barriers and differences in habits and also due to the lack of knowledge about the peculiarities of the host side,” noted Sebastjan. “I clearly understand that any language is a precious limitless source of ideas, views and knowledge created by centuries of work and intergenerational transmission. A language is something live and constantly changing, it’s a beauty of human creative work. That is why it’s better to share it both with friends and perfect strangers!”

Recently Sebastjan has become a moderator of the Chinese speaking club. Together with WU Wanying, a postgraduate student at the TSU Faculty of Philology, they try to create a friendly and supportive atmosphere for those who learn this language as a foreign one, and for Chinese students as well who can meet here peers from other countries.

“I’m grateful for this opportunity! I don’t think I’m a specialist in the Chinese language and culture but together with WU Wanying we try to create a comfortable and friendly atmosphere for communication, for sharing experience in learning languages and learning new and engaging facts about China. We always make a lot of photos during the clubs and we hope that ‘no one is afraid to speak’ here despite the language proficiency because fragrant Chinese tea and Russian sweets add to the atmosphere.”

Polyglot Sebastjan Jemec who, apart from his native Slovenian, is proficient in Russian, Chinese, German, English, understands and reads in Italian, will moderate Speak-Dating marathon of communication on May 31.

The participants will talk about travelling, traditions and holidays, unusual jobs and many other things. And many will become convinced of the fundamental for Sebastjan truth: ‘A language gives an opportunity to learn about new cultures, discover new worlds that are very likely closed for those who do not know other languages’.