I’ve been trying to get my language classes going since we moved to Beijing, so I was excited when they finally got started!

Before Classes Started

Before moving to Beijing, I had no experience with Chinese.  I downloaded a couple apps but really didn’t do much studying.  I arrived knowing probably two words-nihao (hello) and xiexie (thank you).

I found that I was able to get around just fine, despite my lack in language skills.  I became good at using hand signals and showing pictures on my phone.  I did try to learn a few keys phrases, like “how much” and “I don’t want”.  “I don’t know” and “I don’t understand” were also key phrases I learned once we moved here.

As I walked the dogs, I then focused on learning my numbers by counting again and again.  The numbers really aren’t hard once you get 1-10 down.

I still felt pretty good in the beginning without knowing much words but then I took a taxi once and soon realized it would be helpful to know some more Chinese.  That’s when I focused on learning my taxi phrases.

For me, it helped to focus on certain phrases and go from there.  Shopping words and then taxi vocab.  Next, I want to focus on asking questions (but I’m still working on understanding the answers!).

Finally-Class Time!

Anyways, by the time my language class started, three months into our time here, I think I have developed a pretty good base.  I have some greetings, shopping terms, food words, and taxi talk down.  My hope for the language class was to expand my vocabulary and work on some new key phrases (like asking questions which are set up differently than in the English structure).

So my language class started, and I was, of course, in the beginner class, which I certainly am; however, I have a few more words than the other ladies in my group who are completely new to the language.  I guess this helps me so I can really focus on the tones, which is essential to have in a tonal language.

It’s just been a slow start to the classes as we have just focused on the pronunciation as I am eager to learn more words.  I do listen for words that I know and can supply the English word in class then.  The apps I’ve downloaded have been super useful though to supplement this!  I must say though, that the class has been great because I really am understanding the different tones and how to read the words correctly based on the tone.

Some Interesting Facts:

  • Mandarin is completely different from Cantonese.  Mandarin is the formal/more used language.  It’s also simpler as there are only four tones compared to the nine in Cantonese.  Someone who speaks Mandarin cannot follow a conservation in Cantonese unless they know that language.
  • There are four different tones in Mandarin.  A high tone, one that dips low and back up, one that dips even lower and back up, and then one that drops at the end.  Because of the tones, you can have a word that is spelled the same (except the accent on top), but is said slightly differently which mean it makes different noises.  Ma is the perfect example of this.  Depending on the tone you use for ma, you could be saying mother or horse or something else.
  • The superstitions behind the numbers
    • When you go to buy your cell phone number (yes, you choose your own number), you may end up paying more for a number with lots of 8s.  8 is considered a lucky number.  It also means rich.
    • 9 is considered the Emperor’s number.  In the Forbidden City and at the Temple of Heaven, you’ll find 9 dragons and 9 steps and probably 9 of other things.
    • Now 4 is a number you don’t want.  People don’t want to buy cell phone numbers that have 4s in them because (depending on your down), “si” either means four or death.

What’s Next

I’m so glad my class is underway and having a small group for a class has its advantages as you get to hear others practice the language and work with others.  On the other hand, I’m eager to get to going with some more vocab, but I’m using this as an opportunity to really understand and practice what I am learning.

TOTE:  You may know more than you think.