From one situation where my language skills work well to another situation where they don’t quite work. The Chinese language continues to be a very difficult language not just because it’s tonal but also because the sentence structure is so different from the English language. Question words aren’t put until the end of the sentence. Time always comes second in a sentence and before the action word. Time also is said from the biggest to the smallest (example–year, month, day, date, time).
I find that if I’m not quite sure about a conversation, I can get by with just a few key words and phrases. “Wo bu dong” (I don’t understand). “Wo de Zhongwan bu hao” (My Chinese is bad). After those, I usually just say “dui” (right) or “hen hao” (good) as it’s easier than trying to form a more complex sentence…for now. I’ll continue to practice.
But like I said, it is a tough language. Even when I think I’m saying something correctly, I get blank stares at times. Other times though, I get praised for my language skills. I really am putting forth an effort to learn the language to be more conversational. I think it’s important if you’re living in a place for an extended period of time to at least try and learn the language (although I do feel you can still get by just fine without any language skills!).
I got a phone the other morning from the place where I go horseback riding. Sometimes they have someone with a smidge of English speaking skills, this time not so much. As they told me something in Chinese, I tried to use my expanding vocabulary (and the context) to pick out key words. Thankfully, we just learned how to say the time, so I was able to deduce that they wanted to be sure I was coming to my lesson today. After that was established and hearing someone’s name, I figured out that they wanted to know if it was ok I had a different instructor. Dui. Hen hao.
Once I got to the barn, they were very talkative to me in the office this time. The one lady kept saying something to me. I know it was a question since she ended it with ma, but I just had no idea what the question was. I’ll keep working on building that vocabulary.
Being in a foreign country where I’m trying to learn the language makes me more aware of how I interact with others who don’t speak my language. I think it’s important that you use simple words and phrases while also not speaking too fast (that’s what would help me at least). It also helps to give the person time to process what was being said as well as give them time to formulate a response (which may come out super choppy). My Chinese is a work in progress but for having probably less than 10 classes or so, I’d say I’m doing quite well!
I took a Chinese landscape painting class the other day. Like calligraphy, it was quite challenging. I’m not quite an artist. It was interesting, however, talking with the instructor about the differences between Chinese and English. And even Mandarin and Cantonese. I even picked up a few new words while there! (Maimai is business. Mai is to sell and mai is to buy, so together buy/sell means business. But using the same word just a different tone for buy and sell it hard!).
One last thing since it has to do with languages…
I borrowed Brave (that Disney movie about the Scottish princess) from a friend to finally watch-took me long enough! Anyways, I started watching it, and I thought how strange it was that they were speaking Gaelic in this kid’s movie. I was following along just fine and thought maybe since this was a scene from when she was a child, she would start speaking English once she grew up (like in other movies I’ve seen). Anyways, she grew and was still speaking Gaelic. I thought-“this is strange”. Then, I heard the word “dui”. I was thinking, “huh, I didn’t know Gaelic and Chinese had similar words”. I listened some more. That’s when it hit me. I was watching the movie in Chinese. Bwahahahaha. Oops. Restart.
TOTE: While in another country, try and speak the language a bit if you can.