Saturday, November 27, 2010

In China, collecting defining moments

I've been in China for about three months now, started the language course two months ago, and began to collect my first language-related defining moments only a couple of weeks ago. Is it too late?

It's not that I don't ask myself if I'm doing something wrong or what I should change, but despite some healthy self-criticism, I somehow struggle to make the whole process of learning Mandarin faster.

I have just begun to learn the characters, so it's quite hard to notice any improvement in my writing and reading already: I might know about 300 and they are 5000, I need to be patient, I'll be able to read the newspaper in about 3000 characters.

I'm getting to grips with the grammar, not too difficult, but still very different from Western languages structures. I know how it works, I've gone through grammar learning before, so I know it takes time.

What I'm finding more challenging, however, is the pronunciation, both when I speak and when I listen.

Speaking is not always easy because I miss many words. However, I try to follow the advice of our laoshi and talk to anybody I meet, but even when I'm happy I for once know the right expression, my excitement is very short-lived: people simply don't understand me.

On the other hand, when Chinese people speak (very fast), my first reaction is panic. When finally my brain starts functioning, it's already too late, the person has left.

 I can never forget my first defining moment language-wise: after hopping on a cab, I told the driver where I wanted to go and he understood without me having to show him the place written in Han zi (Chinese characters). I know it might seem pretty straightforward, but it's not: you get one tone wrong and they'll drive you to the other side of the city.

I was so excited I managed to make the driver understand me for the first time that at the end of the drive I forgot how to tell him where to stop and I issued a ridiculous "zhe ge, zhe ge!" that corresponds to the English "this one, this one!", very little appropriate to the situation.

Since then, I developed a greater self-confidence and I have no problems taking a taxi anymore. Actually now probably I say it so well that drivers feel compelled to strike up a conversation with me and inevitably end up mocking my accent when they realise my only answer is "Ting bu dong" ("I don't understand").

So, since most of my attempts to communicate so far have ended up into a stalemate, I've decided to make some more effort on this. My next steps will include:

1. Watching tv every day even if I understand next to nothing.

2. Getting a language partner for conversation.

3. Going out more often and strike up a conversation with anybody, especially taxi drivers that are proving very talkative.

I hope my Chinese will improve faster with such a full immersion learning process but no worries, next post will still be in English!


Andrea said...

Mandarin is such a difficult language to learn if you're an English speaker - congrats for taking on the challenge! I think it will be a very valuable language to know these days. Good luck with your immersion!

Vera Marie Badertscher said...

Your pledge to watch television every day, reminded me of a conversation we had in Bruges, Belgium with a young woman who spoke excellent English. We asked how she learned and she said she watched movies and television shows in English and then practiced in the mirror, making her face and mouth look just like the actors she was watching! However, she began as a teen, and the earlier the better, I'm sure. Best of luck with your struggle.

AngelaCorrias said...

Thanks Andrea, i'll try my best, indeed it's proving tougher than I expected!

Hi Vera, good idea to talk to myself in the mirror, although, I have to say that sometimes I speak alone in Chinese. This is why I've decided to look for some language partner, meeting the first one on Tuesday!

David Jr said...

Angela, I admire you for learning Chinese there and believe the best place to learn it is where you speak it. Good luck and all the best.

David @ MalaysiaAsia

AngelaCorrias said...

Thanks a lot David, it's certainly not an easy task, but I'm doing my best :)

Ayngelina said...

Wow it's so commendable to learn such a difficult language. I'm still trying to learn Spanish and am 8 months in but when I began I started watching a telenovela and remember when I went from understanding nothing to 10%, it was really rewarding.

AngelaCorrias said...

Hi Ayngelina, when I will understand 10% of tv shows I'll be very happy indeed! Now I manage to get 0,5% MAYBE! And when I get it it's because I read the characters. Strange enough, I understand better when it's written than when they speak, I find hard especially the pronunciation.

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