The Shay Rebellion | Christopher Shay

Chinese Lesson #1: Humility

A few years ago a friend from high school told me that I should devote myself to something really difficult. He said it’d be good for me, character-building or something. Well, I think I’ve found that something.

There are nine of us in my Mandarin class, and we meet on the third floor of a bookstore. We’re a motley crew of ex-pats: two Australians, one Belgian, one Canadian, one Brit, one Frenchwoman, one German, one Indian, and me—the lone American. But no matter where we’re from, we’re united by the fact that we all sound absolutely ridiculous.

Often, I can hear the differences between words, and once in a while, I can almost make a sound that would be recognizable to Chinese speaker. It’s incredibly frustrating when you’re trying to make a sound and you can even hear it in your head, but all that comes out is a pathetic, American excuse of a phoneme. The patient teacher repeats the Chinese sound, and the polyglot group repeats back something completely different. When attempting to speak Chinese, I can’t abandon that American hard ‘r’, and the Frenchwoman—even though she speaks English with a perfect BBC British accent—can’t leave her French vowels behind. I’m hoping by the end of the class I might have the speaking ability of a particularly dense infant, but even that may be shooting too high.

We’ll see what happens next week. We might even start learning whole words.

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One Response

  1. Jeannie says:

    [Sorry I keep stalking your blog like this but I get kinda bored at work sometimes and your entries are very nice to read.]

    Learning Mandarin at first can be a royal pain in the ass, especially at our age and especially because it’s such a difficult language to vocalize. When you get to that point, you should look into finding a language partner. That way, you can practice speaking Mandarin to someone who speaks it fluently and the other person can also practice conversing in English. Good luck :)

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