Wednesday, December 10, 2008

PART TWO: Learning Chinese



My Mandarin Training Center Student ID


Chinese classes started a whole new stage of our Taiwan experience. We gradually gained the tools to communicate and make sense of our surroundings. I have to say that Chinese was the hardest language I have ever tackled. It was the seventh language I had studied formally, and I was expecting to master it in nine months, but it was too different from European languages. I was barely conversational by the end of nine months, and even today I frequently learn new things although I’ve been speaking it every day for more than 26 years.

Chinese is a tonal language, and our first challenge was learning to hear and say the tones. When we weren’t careful, we called our mothers horses, or made other equally terrible errors like saying “Jesus is a pig,” instead of “Jesus is the Lord,” when we were testifying at church. Chinese grammar is deceptively simple. There is no case or tense or even fixed parts of speech, but that made things hard, too, because without those markers we had to learn to evaluate contextual clues to determine the true sense of what was being said. Because Chinese people insulate themselves behind interior walls, you have to learn to pick up several layers of meaning in their words. That means in order to be fluent, you have to get to the point where you sense what they feel, not an easy proposition for a Westerner. Then, of course, there is Chinese writing. Taiwan uses the traditional characters, some of which have more than twenty strokes. Many characters contain no clues to their pronunciation and have to be learned entirely by rote. Since returning to America and opening my own translation business, I have also learned to get by with the simplified Chinese characters used in mainland China. The Chinese have a proverb that says “As long as you are living, you have to keep learning.” It certainly is true of the Chinese language.


6 comments:

Joannalynne said...

amen. that's what my Chinese teacher always says too...you can never finish learning a language. especially Chinese.

Teresa said...

Yeah. ESPECIALLY Chinese. Which of your teachers says that? One at UCLA or one that you had in Taiwan?

Joannalynne said...

UCLA...but i think my taiwan one said something along the same lines too

Teresa said...

Well, Chinese teachers are usually right :)

Jenna Lynn said...

haha! I remember the "Jesus is pig" thing.
I wish I had applied myself more in our Chinese class..I hardly remember a thing!! Terrible terrible, I know.

Teresa said...

Don't feel bad that you can't rememger, Jenna. I think Westerners need full immersion to really learn Chinese because the language is so different. Our one week field trip to Taiwan for your Chinese class just wasn't long enough. You can always move to China or Taiwan after you graduate, and you'll be fluent in no time. But I thought your new love was French. I always found it easier to get fluent in one language at a time. I think you'd have more fun living in France for a couple of years before you move to the Far East....

(Don't open your children's museum and art studio until you've gotten the "travel bug" out of your system.)

Teresa