Sunday, December 4, 2011

Learning Chinese

Have you ever done something that you never, ever desired to do?

I took four years of French in high school (as did many of you). I remember a time where my dreams would have phrases en Francais. Then when I traveled to France twice I could not understand or speak anything! That was when I decided that I would be monolingual forever.

When I first found out we were moving to China I actually said, "I am going to live there for two years and not even try to learn the language." I mean Mandarin Chinese? Isn't that like the most difficult language on the planet? Isn't that the language that you say , "at least it's not Chinese" to in reference to ALL other languages?

We have been here four months now. I realized quickly that the above approach kept me feeling very isolated. It stressed me out that I was going to need to learn a language that just sounded like mumbling (sometimes very angry mumbling). Around this time transportation caused me severe panic so I knew someone would have to come to me.

 I found Lily! She comes to my house on Monday and Thursday and we laugh A LOT! She is incredibly patient and speaks very good English. I now understand why every expat says that their Chinese teacher is the best AND why they count their Chinese teacher as one of their closest friends here.

Tones? What are tones? We began with 10 lessons (20 hours!) just on the four tones of Mandarin. It has been very interesting dissecting a language and have been very grateful that we learn English while we are toddling around. 

Mandarin consists of two forms: characters and Pinyin. In the 50's the Chinese actually took the language and created words with the alphabet to make it more accessible to the world. They were smart because Mandarin is predicted to be "the language of the future world". I am not learning the characters, only the Pinyin. 

Doing homework again
At this point I have no desire to become fluent in Mandarin. I only wish to communicate as I live here. The rest of my family is learning both characters and Pinyin. It is great to have something in common, as we are all beginners learning differently. Hubby is fluent in Japanese so he has a leg up though. I hope my children will become fluent. It is a total myth that just living in a foreign country magically makes you fluent! I have heard people who have lived here for two years and can "just get by". I chose to set my goals pretty low.

I have learned that while I would have NEVER chosen to study Mandarin, I am enjoying it. In the four short months that I have been here I can actually decipher words among the "mumbling" and I hear the patterns of the language. I can't wait to be able to go back to San Francisco and talk to the Chinese street vendors!

1 comment:

Jessica said...

That is awesome and inspiring! Way to go, baby steps!