For one of my very first blog posts I wrote was about why I am learning Chinese. Last week I had my final lesson for the semester and I thought I would reflect on what I have achieved in the past year.
First up, my goal was to be able to go out for dinner with my Chinese friends and speak with them in their language rather than forcing them to converse in mine. A very ambitious goal! The old adage that the more I learn, the more I realise I know so little, is very true.
However, I am pleased with what I have achieved. I have significantly increased my vocabulary and can even construct simple sentences. It has been frustrating at times but I can see real progression. In fact, I have to say, I have even enjoyed it!
I am thrilled that I am setting a good example for my son. There were times when we were learning the same theme and could quiz each other. He often corrects my pronunciation! And I’d like to think that I even inspired my husband to start learning. Annoyingly he seems to be mastering it quicker than I. (I am trying hard not to be jealous of this.)
Importantly it has improved the connection I have with my Chinese friends. I sense that maybe they feel more respected and valued as a friend. They seem to enjoy explaining the nuances of certain words and phrases and teaching me new ones. What is particularly interesting is when I show off my latest vocabulary and they laugh and tell me that what have just said is not how real people talk, it is the formal way of saying something and then proceed to teach me the vernacular.
Of course I can’t have any real in-depth conversation with them. Our conversation is limited to basic sentences and as soon as they get more complex the language switches to English as I try to explain.
Learning Chinese has led me to understand and appreciate China better. I can appreciate how a language reflects the culture (or is it culture reflected in the language?). For example the Chinese language has many more words to describe a persons family connections e.g. where English only has sister and brother, Chinese describes whether your sister or brother is older or younger than you (jie jie, mei mei, ge ge and di di respectively), whether your grandparents are your father’s parents (ye ye, nai nai) or mother’s parents (wai gong, wai po). And don’t get me started on the variations for aunt, uncle, cousins and in-laws.
Learning Chinese has helped me to understand English better too. Or at least reflect on my complete lack of understanding of English grammar rules. If someone asked me to explain the use of nouns, determiners, pronouns, verbs, adjectives, adverbs, prepositions and conjunctions in a sentence I would be perplexed. I can’t explain it, I just know it.
Someone once told me that while Chinese is hard to learn, once you know the rules it is easy as you just follow the rules. This is in comparison with learning English which is full of exceptions to the rule. Not true! Chinese also has many exceptions to the rule. This makes it more frustrating to learn because just when you think you understand the teacher tells you about the exceptions. Arrgh!
Despite this, I intend to continue learning Chinese. Next semester I plan to resume attending class. I also want to arrange a more one on one conversational chat with someone once a week. Now I have the basics I need to work on my confidence and actually start speaking the language.