Just got back from vacation in Japan. More on that later. I’m checking my email and we just received a fan mail.
Sent: 2005年10月4日 13:52
Subject: Chinese: in need of hope
My name is Jason and I was fortunate enough to stumble upon your blog about your adventure in China. Coincidentally, we’re both Jewish, from San Diego, dated Japanese women, and enamored with China.
My reason for writing is to help me better understand my Mandarin potential. I am currently taking my first semester of Chinese at college, and although I enjoy the challenge and love the culture, it is slowly becoming an exercise in futility. Character/writing acquisition proves difficult, leaving little time for oral comprehension. Being that you, too, learned Chinese from scratch, is there hope for me? My fear is after studying Chinese and laboring for years, I will have only improved moderately. How long did it take you to learn Mandarin? Will this initial difficulty diminish? Ultimately, how much time (daily, yearly, etc) and to what extent of effort should I expect in order to gain considerable fluency (let’s say, minor business proficiency)?
Thank you in advance for your time and help. Your advice is much appreciated.
Not sure why you are enamored with China. China is not that great of a place coming from San Diego. San Diego is like heaven…beach…sun…parks… I like it here in China and I doen’t at the same time. You like Chinese culture? Sometimes I do. And then there are always Chinese people bragging about their god damn 5000 years of history. To which I always say…yeahÂ…5000 years. Great…Â…so what has that taught you about the situation and problems of today?
I just got back from a vacation in Japan. Love it there. Except everything is too expensive. Food gets boring. People are too polite so I can’t yell at them (or hard bargain). Things are a little too clean. Can’t cross the street against a red light. Etc. And companies require you to subsume your individuality to a greater degree than American companies. Which is really bad.
To Answer your questions:
I started studying in college for 2 years and didn’t really learn anything much. Couldn’t speak at all. My character writing was OK. Then I went to BeiDa for a year. At that time (1991), it was still too soon after 6/4. So it was an intense atmosphere. No Chinese students talked to me. And I was introverted / mal-adjusted anyway. So I drank and partied with Russians and Japanese students…that is the short story about how I met my wife Haga who was also studying there. I talked Chinese with the Russians and Japanese…but no Chinese people could understand us. I didn’t study much. I’m not astudierudyier.
After graduation, I forgot how to write Chinese and I can now barely read. I find that for me to improve now, I need to re-learn those skills. I am learning to read by reading bad men’s famagazineszinese (the equivalent of Details, or FHM)
At various times I dated Chinese girls and didn’t get along with them. So we aa lotd alot…in Chinese. I worked for two Taiwcompaniespanese and didn’t like my bosses…so we aa lotd alot…in Chinese. But I did not formally study Chinese at all after graduation from college (in 1992)
If you can and want to learn Chinese the same way I learned, my advice is thus: Pay attention to pronunciationiation. Learn to say things the right way first. Understand the tone pronunciationiation in your first semester…you don’t have to master it but you do have to get the concept down cold. DO NOT focus on reading and writing, BUT do understand the concept of Chinese characters. Spend 1.5 hours a day your first two years. Then… listen to how Chinese people speak and repeat what they say. Not off a tape…but real conversations. Focus on expressing yourself and your sense of humor. Fantasize about talking to a pretty girl in Chinese and what would you say to her to impress her.
Go to China or Taiwan > find good friends / girlfriends > have a good time > always try to express yourself in Chinese > never give up.
One more thing…it never gets easier. Even when you get better at it, you think you are no good. There will always be a time when you feel that you suck because you could have expressed something better.