During my first trip to China I frowned at the complicated dashes, squares, and boxes that make up Chinese characters. I listened to Chinese voices rising and falling, their words changing with subtle tonal inflections undetected by my Western ears. I spent an entire day trying to master one simple phrase (“you have a beautiful baby”), only to have Chinese moms eagerly nod at me with absolutely no understanding at my failed attempt to compliment their ‘little emperor.’
So I gave up. Chinese was obviously impossible. While my students poured over English textbooks and vastly improved their speaking skills, I stayed pitifully ignorant of even the most basic Chinese phrases.
I’ve vow to do better this time. I have un-given up.
Refusing to pay the ungodly amount of money that Rosetta Stone wants for their language program, I hit up my local library and scored a similar program, “Living Language” with four CD’s, accompanying book and a dictionary. The only problem is that I have to give it back to the library.
It took me a few days to not feel like a dork while repeated Chinese get-to-know-you words in the confines of my car to and from work, but I got pretty comfortable with the first unit of words after a couple weeks. Learning Chinese wasn’t turning out to be as bad as I’d thought five years ago. Hopefully when I get to China people will only say things to do me like “good morning,” and “what nationality are you?” I can only run into teachers, students, doctors, nurses, businessmen or taxi drivers – those are the only professions I know how to say in Chinese.
I’m now working on the language unit entitled “family.” This has me wondering how China’s one-child policy will affect language. I’m busily learning the five different words for “sibling,” when nobody even has one in China.
Then there seem to be 700 different words for aunts and uncles, depending on whether they are from your mother’s or father’s side, blood relatives or in-laws, and if they are older or younger than your parents. This too will all be irrelevant for future generations as no siblings now means no aunts and uncles for future children.
Hopefully I’ll have my family works locked in and memorized so I can start the “around town” unit before I land in Beijing. Wish me luck, or in Chinese: 好运