Learning Mandarin: Not easy

21 09 2009

So yesterday was probably the first day I really felt truly frustrated with the language barrier here. Not because anything major happened that resulted in me sobbing to an Army lieutenant while holding the tattered remains of my favorite Hello Kitty backpack, but just…I guess from days of built up frustration from not being able to speak with the locals.
With that said, Missy and I are able to communicate somewhat in relatively easy situations (i.e. buying dish soap, picking up some fried rice, etc…) but I still have stumbling blocks in situations I shouldn’t. (Like when someone at the bakery tells me how much something is, and I have to ask three times.)
I know Mandarin is infamous for being difficult, but nonetheless, I wish I could speed up the process somehow. (How about tutoring or a class? What a novel idea!) The issue with Mandarin has to do with it just being dramatically different than Latin-based languages. They don’t use letters. In fact, the system where names and stuff are written out with the alphabet – Pinyin – is used exclusively to help out people who can’t read Mandarin characters. And I don’t think Pinyin really makes it easier, except for finding out where a city is on a Western map. Or, say, pronouncing words you already sort of know. So anyway, you learn characters, and most words are built out of a few (when I say a few, it’s probably like 500) characters that are base characters, if that makes any sense.
Then the “words” are created using a few of those characters. For example, if the word is jealousy, the characters are the character for woman and angry put together. I’m not making that up. Well, I’m not sure that the second character is the one for angry, but you catch my drift. And each character has a sound. And each sound has a tone. And each tone has a meaning. Get it? Great, you pass Mandarin 101! For example, the word ma can mean mother or horse, depending on what tone you use. One sounds like someone calling for their mother, the other sounds like someone asking their mom a question, etc…And there are two others. So for each sound there are four possible meanings. And they are all combined with other “words” to create larger meanings. And it’s all really confusing. I realize my Mandarin is getting better, but that’s not saying a lot. One thing it has helped me realize is that thought my Spanish is mediocre and rusty, it’s at least functional. Oh well, wish me luck!

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4 responses

22 09 2009
Kelly

that’s really interesting, about the tones! Sounds hard!
Good luck

22 09 2009
gl

Jeremiah, I enjoyed the language info; you’re saying the same sort of things the people in the books I’ve been reading have said. Hang in there! Haven’t you always heard, “It isn’t what you say, but how you say it”?

22 09 2009
Night Ranger

No me gustan los platanos

23 09 2009
Prince B

Look at you, trying to learn the language! Why don’t you just try speaking English much slower and much louder like everyone else?

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