Week 2: Ni HOW DO I LEARN THIS LANGUAGE?!

Dear Taipei,

Truth or dare? (Please pick dare, lest you RUIN my blog post).

Oh, dare? Good choice. Watch the below video. All 5 minutes 42 seconds of it. MULTIPLE TIMES UNTIL YOU WANT TO RIP YOUR BRAIN OUT. I promise you that is the PG version of what torture you will want to inflict on yourself.

In an effort to help us learn how to pronounce Chinese sounds and tones, our teacher made us practice our speaking in time with this video in class and at home all last week. Ok, I may have exaggerated my hate for it. It’s actually not that bad and, sometimes -shamefully- I found it rather fun to sing along to because the visuals are so strange and amusing, and some of the tones sound funny (my favourite is the one that sounds like a really enthusiastic “yeah”). But, to have to do it again and again and again was not something I would wish on anyone.

Class went pretty well this week. In fact on Thursday I had my first test! We have to have a test after we finish every chapter of our study book. After extensive mathematical calculations I have deduced that works out to be 1 chapter per fortnight- that shit cray. It went pretty alright but I made some stupid mistakes that of course I am beating myself over now (note to self: it is not a good idea to go to karaoke the night before when you have to wake at 7am the next day. Much to my surprise there was no test of my flawless ability to do a god-awful rendition of “Toxic”).

It’s easy to catch myself feeling, well, basically, stupid for not remembering everything that we’ve learned in class. I am especially finding it hard to remember how to read certain pinyin. Pinyin is the system of using the Roman alphabet to write and understand the pronunciation of Chinese words. There are marks above some letters to indicate which of the four tones to pronounce. It’s standard to use this system when learning the language, particularly in the beginning when you can’t read the characters. Of course, it only takes you so far because you ain’t gonna find pinyin when you’re wanting to buy a 30 cents cheese and bacon egg pancake (Stupid sexy pancake…. I mean, Flanders).

syllable-shiThere is a famous story which I remember seeing years ago (and thinking how the hell does anyone learn this language?!) in which only the sound/word “shi” is used. Apparently it makes complete sense. IS THAT NOT SOME KIND OF WIZARDRY?!?! Can you imagine an English equivalent? The best one I can come up with is “Nom nom nom”, but that’s not even a proper word or sentence (although it is totally a legitimate expression for a 25 year old to be uttering, right?)

Anyway, I digress. This week has been simultaneously harder and easier. It’s easier in the sense that we now have a foundation of basic words and phrases at our disposal. However, although we are revising constantly we keep moving forward and it’s hard to catch your breath with all the new information we are expected to retain.

But I’m loving learning (NERD ALERT!). I know this may come as a surprise, and is rather ironic given my teaching degree, but I never enjoyed institutionalised learning. At university, my notes were housed by intricate doodles and I would often find myself spacing out because I didn’t find the content interesting, or I didn’t connect with the way it was being taught.

With Chinese learning thus far I find myself fully engaged- really trying to understand, retain information and sound as good as possible. It’s funny to catch myself almost contorting my mouth to make certain sounds my mouth isn’t used to making. At moments of frustration I am surprised at the flash of doubt that comes over me which makes me question why I am doing this. Especially after practicing the same word or character over and over and over again, only to forget it only a minute later. But, when it clicks, maybe after tens of repetitions, it feels unbelievably good. And that vision of being one day being able to confidently and without error string a sentence, two, three- a conversation with someone- someone I wouldn’t have been able to connect with on the same level before, it dampens my doubt a bit.

And to continue with the D&M I have now written my way into, I know I should have no doubt about what I am doing with my life now given that it’s my choice, but I guess that’s the kind of person I am. Now that I’ve been here a month and I’m trying to put aside a bit more time to just to be by myself sometimes, it’s hard to not let thoughts about my future creep in. I know I’m only 25, and in the scheme of things that is relatively young. But unfortunately, I do worry that I’m “wasting” “precious” time I could be dedicating towards making steps towards my new career. Or that my wanderlust won’t ever settle, but I will have no choice but to take the natural course and eventually settle into the 9-5 routine (let alone that I can’t live off my savings for that much longer). Or that I won’t ever something that I truly love doing, but will eventually find something “good enough”.

This sometimes find me yearning to want to settle down. It sounds odd I know, but I do feel it would be easier in many ways. To have a lack of direction can lead you to try many things, and it does make your freer to explore new options. But conversely, it make make you feel overwhelmed because you have no path to guide your way.

In what may have been magical, perfect timing, yesterday I happened to meet someone who, oddly enough, said their English name was Plato. I was waiting for the MRT at 11 pm, practicing my Chinese flashcards in a poor attempt to study for my test today, when the man next to me  asked me in English what I was doing. He explained that he used to be an English teacher, and offered to  help me learn Chinese. We got talking on the train, and he asked if I had a piece of paper. I had no idea what he planned to do, but it was so sweet.

He drew a bird and wrote me a message in Chinese. I obviously can’t read it, but he explained to me that it said something about achieving my objectives and following my heart. What a sweetheart! He even included a beautiful message in English-
Dream it!
Go for it!
Achieve it!

bird

Well Plato, maybe I should just follow your sage advice. Maybe it really is as simple as that.

You surely have one up on the rest of us!

-TTT

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2 comments

  1. ChasingGains · · Reply

    Ahaha that title is excellenct, best of luck ! 🙂

    Like

    1. Thank you!
      Good luck on your goals too! Looks like you are doing very well for yourself 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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