Saturday, November 27, 2010
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!