Posts Tagged ‘language learning’

Back to Mandarin I go.

February 7, 2012

So I finally did it, I finally returned to Mandarin study. Last night I attended the first of 12 classes in level 2 Mandarin. It became immediately obvious that I was too high for the class, but I will stick with it for a few just to see how it goes. Despite knowing most of the things covered, there was still a few things here and there that I didn’t actually know-  for example, something as simple as I’m thirsty (wo ke le), yet I knew I’m hungry (wo e le).

No matter how much Mandarin I learn, there’s always other ways to say the same things that I come across. I knew wo bu cuo (I’m ok), but not wo hai keyi – which apparently means the same thing. It’s all good though, the more the merrier.

For the past few years I studied in quite intensive bursts and retained most of the language knowledge that I had learned – yet I have gone through a lengthy period of retaining it, but not actually learning anything new. Hopefully, by attending this class; even if it is too low a level for me, it will motivate me to continue. I have a real passion for foreign languages, I don’t know what it is but as I have gotten older they have become fascinating to me. My goal is to eventually learn a few other languages, so I can speak as much of them as I can Chinese. I think that when travelling to other countries, it adds considerable depth to the experience, and an extra appreciation of the culture if you can speak a little of the language – and I don’t mean just hello and goodbye.

I will be travelling to Europe in May, going from Copenhagen to England to visit my brother, then off to Rome for a week, down to the Amalfi Coast then home via Bangkok and Koh Samui. I hope to write about it as I go – perhaps shelving the China theme for just a few weeks.

In the meantime, I am tired as hell from lasts nights lesson. It amazes me just how head-tired language study can make me. When I was flat out studying characters on Skritter – I felt like a zombie.

Anyhow, wo dei shi pei le, wo you hen duo gong zuo yao zuo 😉


*edit – and wow, that was post number 150! I remember when I first started writing in this blog, having returned from China at the end of 2008. I wanted to get a few posts under my belt as there’s always that awkward period at the start of launching a new blog where it either continues indefinitely or simply fails. Next stop 300!

Mandarin Chinese – Frustrating fulfillment

February 2, 2010

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.

Australia gets set to launch bilingual schools

November 15, 2009

In what I believe is a fantastic initiative from the government, four schools in New South Wales have been set to launch a new bilingual program. Starting initially in kindergarten and grade one, with hopes to spread across all year levels, young students will be exposed to Mandarin Chinese at a very early age. It is believed that the earlier a child is exposed to another language, the greater chance they have of soaking it in and truly becoming bilingual.

The students will initially be taught Chinese for an hour and a half per day, and along with English, will also coincide with other subjects such as history and art. The project is estimated at costing around $2.25 million dollars, and in my opinion, is a great step forward.

Too few Australians are fluent in a second language. If you look at your average European, they can know anything from 2+ additional languages. I guess it’s the result of living on the other side of the planet from approximately everywhere else, but it really is no excuse. Australians are one of the most traveled cultures out there, and having access to a second language would be nothing short of beneficial.

I myself have been struggling to learn Mandarin. Grammatically it is a simple language with far fewer actual words and a vastly more simplistic structure, though the tonal nature and almost inverted* (*compared to English) sentence structure makes it incredibly hard to understand. I have a real desire and interest to become fluent in Mandarin, but whether that actually happens or not is yet to be seen – made all the more difficult that over here I feel silly using even basic Chinese in Chinese run restaurants for fear of looking stupid. At least in China it was used out of necessity – which makes me think that you truly do need to live in a country for a certain amount of time to really master its language.

While I studied French for over 3 years in school, I can barely remember any of it, and it was started in my later student years. I would have liked nothing more than to have been exposed to another language from such an early age that the whole process didn’t feel so difficult to initiate as it now does. Though a French friend of a friend we were recently speaking to at a party got me thinking when he said that anyone has the capacity to learn another language, they just need to commit themselves – himself being a speaker of a good handful of languages themselves.

I often look at Chinese toddlers as they prattle away in Mandarin and think, hell, if that little kid can speak it, how can I not learn at least that much?!

Laoshi hao

May 12, 2009

Tonight we have our first lesson with a Chinese tutor of whom we met briefly last Tuesday night. Her name is Ying (said: Ing) and she is a mother living in Box Hill North who has been in Australia for approximately 1 year. Her english is good but she was quick to point out, not that good. To us her english was completely fine. This was precisely the type of person we were looking for.

To date we have had really no trouble communicating with non-english speakers – particularly when they are trying to teach us Chinese. It can be difficult getting a point across sometimes, or explaining something intricate, but when it comes to language learning we would rather someone who actually has a true to life Chinese accent and is sometimes difficult to understand as it makes the learning experience that much better.

So tonight we have our first lesson and I am keen to see what we are taught. I often think back to a lesson we had with Mr Pan where he tried to teach us a few simple phrases. The funny thing about that lesson was that both Courtney and myself remember what he taught us perfectly to this day. Thanks to Mr Pan we can say, “Is that your pen?” “That pen is mine!” which we adapted into, “Is that your cat?” As you can see, highly worthwhile knowledge! In return for him teaching this, we taught him the word ‘Short-cut’, and how and when to use it – to which he must have used it at least once every time we saw him from that point forward.

I wish to continue learning Chinese as I feel I already know enough to form a platform from which to learn more. I am highly interested in foreign languages, and while I find it considerably hard to stay focused and motivated, I have a real desire to be able to hold a conversation. I find myself constantly wanting to be around Mandarin speakers, my ears pricking up at each and every recognisable word. I find myself in shopping centre massage stores more intent on listening to them speak than the actual massage.

Courtney likewise has a keen interest but also the additional factor that she is returning to China for several weeks in August and in order to impress her bosses with her language ability, wishes to build on that. She’s going to primarily Cantonese speaking areas – such as Hong Kong and Macau, but they’ll also be visiting GuangZhou on the mainland, where Mandarin is freely spoken.


April 29, 2009

We have decided in the past few days that we’re going to find ourselves a tutor to continue learning Mandarin. In so many situations we find ourselves listening intently to Chinese people speaking the language and our ears prick up at each and every recognisable word.

We learned a large amount of Chinese prior to living in China and even more while in the country. While we can piece together quite a large number of words and phrases and also navigate the country quite comfortably, we are still nowhere near being conversational.

So the short-term goal is to pay a Chinese tutor once a week at first and continue learning the language that really interests us. It’s difficult, but so very interesting.

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