Monday, June 9, 2008


After my Mandarin lesson last Friday, I have been practising and practising. What I am learning is respect. A profound respect for those adults everywhere who are learning a new language. The last time I studied a language was in high school and then in university. Learning languages wasn't as hard then because no one expected me to actually speak French (long time ago!) or Latin. I can still remember some of the vocabulary and grammar and if someone from France (not Quebec) speaks slowly I can usually understand. Sort of. But we started right off into conversation last week. Granted, the conversation was limited to a few phrases I had learned but that didn't make it any less difficult. I listened to my instructor who did not slow her words down for me. I tried to tease out the sounds and match them to the words I'd rehearsed. I sat mute while my mind examined the sounds. Then, the sound and the word would suddenly come together and I knew what she was saying. Whew! all I had to do was take that knowledge and rummage around in my brain until I could find the right response. Once I found it, I had to say it. That required visualising each word as it looked on paper so I would get the right tone. Then I had to say each word. Slo-o-owly. Needless to say, a conversation with me is not a sparkling affair.
Sometimes, I 'conduct' my own voice so I get the tone that is needed. I have four different hand gestures - one for each tone. The hardest to get right is the one I call 'A'. It always reminds me of the sound of the pitchpipe when tuning a choir. Since I have very little musical ability with my voice, this is a continuing challenge. Without constant vigilance, I'm sure I would say a lot of things which could range from funny to insulting.
If I had to emigrate today, it would be very difficult, I think, to integrate into a new society. It would take a huge effort to learn the language and not be isolated. And if I needed to become fluent enough to conduct business, well, fogeddaboudit! Fortunately, neither my life nor my livihood depend on learning Mandarin. So, kudos to all those who have learned as adults to speak another language - I am in awe of your accomplishment.


Rosemary aka fabricfan said...

I greatly admire your persevernce with learning Mandarin. Are you going to China? One of my sewing friends took lessons before one of her trips.
I don't even have the patience for the calligraphy, although I think it would be great to put oneself in the proper frame of mind required.

Stephanie V said...

No plans to visit China. I have just always wanted to learn Chinese. Maybe it's a middle-age thing...Mom took up Russian in her late 50's.


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