Mandarin Chinese – Frustrating fulfillment


I am trying my hardest to learn Mandarin. Years ago when I was in school, I studied French for over three years, and now, some fifteen years later, I can barely speak a handful of words in that particular language. With Mandarin however, I would say I have been learning now for at least two years, and while my progress has increased, I am still very much a beginner.

Unlike my French tuition; which were proper classes, my Chinese study has been purely based on my own initiative. I haven’t had to feel the need to endure classes and to do homework – and probably as a result have learnt a lot less. Though I know a range of different things, I feel that the all important conversation is still frustratingly elusive in that, every time I learn a few more phrases, they don’t seem particularly conversational. It is my goal to achieve a small degree of fluency – at least enough that I can hold a proper conversation and stumble on through it, rather than comprehending next to nothing.

My original incentive to learn Chinese was because of the fact we were going to live in China – hell, it doesn’t get much more logical than that. During the process of learning, both myself and Courtney developed a keen interest in the language itself, which has continued until present – some 12+ months after returning home. While we live in a suburb that has a particularly large Chinese population (one of the things that drew us here), and hear people speaking Chinese practically every day, we still feel too shy to actually use it.

The main problem is, we do not know enough to actually respond. While I might be able to surprise a Chinese person with my good accent and pronunciation with the initial question – when they actually respond they are rewarded with a blank look – not unlike a stunned mullet.

The bulk of my learning has been done via audio courses, where I will listen and learn in places like the car or train. We have also attended various classes – even some in China – though I find other students to be particularly annoying, as with Chinese it is critical to pronounce things properly, and when the whole class is saying it at once, you can hardly tell if you’re even close. It’s hard enough to pronounce most Chinese words even solo.

We also paid a local Chinese woman some money to teach us for a few weeks, though she moved away which took that particular aspect away. We sorely wanted someone to hear us speak, to help us speak, and to give us feedback. Recently I have discovered via a webpage a great online community which is full to the brim of people looking for language partners. Here people use Skype to communicate with each other, and you can practically pick any language and find someone to practice with. I have tried this multiple times now and while it is immensely satisfying to converse in Chinese, it also shows me precisely how little I actually know. Nothing clears the head faster than being presented with a real live native speaker! I am developing a knack for forgetting precisely everything I have learned each time I attempt it.

Regardless of all of the above, I absolutely love learning this language. If anything, I wish I had started years ago, so that now I would be at a much higher level. It is challenging, and feels like an unscaleable mountain, but with each little chip away at its side, I make small amounts of progress.

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One Response to “Mandarin Chinese – Frustrating fulfillment”

  1. Sam Song Says:

    ” We sorely wanted someone to hear us speak, to help us speak, and to give us feedback. Recently I have discovered via a webpage a great online community…”


    I am a Mandarin speaker. I’d like to have a slow chat with you in Mnadarin. Hopefuuly I could help.


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