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.