Tag Archives: Mandarin


7 Feb


How hard can it be to learn another language? Well, for me, it’s sure not easy… My cream lace crochet Toms and I scurried into Mandarin class at Berlitz. I attended one semester of Mandarin at Pasadena City College, a class that gave me major anxiety. During this class, I learned some basic level one vocabulary and how to write those characters; however, the class didn’t get me very far in my hopes to actually converse in Mandarin. So, I returned to Berlitz, the language school where I learned how to speak Spanish, not fantastically, but well enough to get by. I figured an immersion class would be my best option at learning another language. My father speaks several dialects of Chinese, Malay, Bahasa Indonesia and English, and my mother speaks two Filipino dialects, conversational Spanish and English. Although English wasn’t my first language and out of the ten or so different languages spoken by my parents combined, English is all I grew up speaking and understanding as the only common language my parents speak is English. This is quite sad, in my opinion. While my father could have probably spoken to me in Mandarin in order to learn the language as a child, I now have to pay for semi private classes at a language center to learn what many other parents teach their children growing up. There was not even an ounce of understanding when Chinese friends or classmates in high school would come over and speak to my Dad in Chinese. Don’t ask which dialect of Chinese, sadly, I was as clueless then of different dialects as I was with what was being said. In college I took American Sign Language, so that didn’t really promote anything I could use in a foreign country. Basically, up until a few years ago, the only non-English conversations I had were those with my shoes, which always began with “Ok, I’ll buy you guys.” I don’t think being Shoelingual counts for very much.

Language really only became fascinating to me, not when I visited China, after high school, but after college when I went to Singapore and Malaysia with my family when we celebrated my Dad’s 50th birthday in his hometown of Raub. During the trip, I went with my dad who visited friends from high school, friends he hadn’t seen in over 30 years. It was interesting that while sitting at a table with 4 gentlemen, 4 different languages were being spoken and every one understood each other except for me. One friend, who was of Malaysian ethnicity spoke Malay, and one was from another part of town and of Chinese ethnicity spoke Hakka, and the other also of Chinese ethnicity spoke Hokkien, my dad basically spoke in English so that I could understand what the hell was going. While every one could also speak all of these languages, and obviously understood all of these languages, I guess it was just easier for each of them to talk in the language most comfortable or fluent to the speaker. It was the most bizarre conversation I ever witnessed, but it was also extremely fascinating and I became motivated to start learning. My dad’s native language was not Mandarin or Cantonese, both which he can speak now, so I figured there might be hope for me after all. He explained that he started learning more languages when he worked for an airline in Penang and later learned how to read and write Chinese by watching soap operas in Mandarin (which he still watches today) and looking at the subtitles at the bottom of the television to make out the characters associated with the words being spoken. He then thought that might be a little difficult for me, so he gave me some CDs with lyrics in Chinese characters so I could try to follow along to the words and characters of the songs. Um, was he serious? I still have the CD’s, but I cannot for the life of me figure out how my dad learned a language this way.

Tonight, I struggled to pronounce the correct intonations of words that the instructor from Berlitz, Joshua, had me repeat as I took notes in pinyin (system of English letters that would translate Chinese characters for correct pronunciation without knowing how to read). Joshua reminded me that although pinyin is “great for Westerners”), it is still important to learn how to read and write in Chinese. Even though there are several different Chinese dialects, if two people who speak different dialects could read and write in Chinese, there would still be a mode of communicate through writing when there could be essentially no verbal understanding whatsoever. This brought me back to the non-verbal communication of Sign Language and then to other non-verbal language that I often speak with my shoes. As I was trying to figure out how to tell the difference between a word that means “home” and “to add” when they sound exactly the same, I looked under the table at my Toms and I understood them perfectly as they were telling each other a joke about a girl who is Shoelingual. Great, another joke on me.