Monday, May 14, 2007
On Learning Mandarin....or at least trying to
So we have lived in Shanghai for over 2 months now. At this point, I have stopped counting the days. I can finally keep track of what day it is, although the date still escapes me. I no longer feel so new and wide eyed. And although I don’t have the experience of one who has lived here for 2 years, I feel fairly confident and at ease with my surroundings. We are starting to meet more and more people. Phil got out this weekend to play Ultimate Frisbee with a group of people training for league competition. I stayed home and relaxed.
In an effort to meet people, I have recently joined an expat organization known as the SEA (Shanghai Expat Association). There are over 50 nations represented in this group. It is a great way to meet other expats, learn about the city, take trips, connect with other business people, or just join a book club. I was recently asked and agreed to join the board of the SEA, which means my involvement will greatly increase. I am starting to meet people and make connections through this group, which is nice. I have met a good mix of foreign as well as American expats through this group. I would definitely like to meet more locals though. The government here does not allow the local Chinese to be a part of the SEA, so while I get to meet people from all over the world, I do not get to meet people who are native citizens of China through the SEA or organizations like this. I really want to make sure I don’t surround myself with western comforts and people alone. It is an easy and tempting thing to do at times. I want to make sure I immerse myself and develop relationships with the community around me. To effectively do this, it will help to learn the language.
Phil and I are currently taking mandarin classes. We have a teacher who comes to our house for private lessons 2 times/ week, 2 hours each time. I haven't really shared what it is like trying to learn Mandarin, so I will take this opportunity to do so.
In order to learn Chinese effectively, there are several things you will need to know. First and foremost- you must have a sense of humor. Once you find that, arm yourself with unlimited patience. Next, take everything you know about learning a language and throw it out the door. Intonation to turn a sentence into a question- forget about it. Sentence structure- in the trash. Just when you think you understand something- it will change. Just when you think it makes sense, it won't. And when you grasp a principle and the teacher tells you that principle does not apply to a particular word or phrase, don't even bother asking why. Why, you ask? Because the resounding answer will be- "that's just the way it is". Learning this language is one big T.I.C moment after another. (If you are unfamiliar with T.I.C., please refer to previous post). Oh and I would suggest padding the table you are at during your class, because banging your head on the structure below is a natural response at times. Seriously.
Although the language is insanely challenging, Phil and I are both up to it. We have always had a strong desire to learn another language fluently. What better opportunity than this. And so.... we press forward, with a pillow padded table and a lot of laughter.
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