It is All Chinese to Me

I am not lazy, but I lack aptitude for language learning. Unless I have a goal it is hard to motivate myself to buckle down and really learn a language. Other stuff drifts to a higher priority.

I am trying to learn Chinese, again. This is my third try. Language isn’t my thing, even in my native tongue when I need words they just don’t come. One reason that I rarely post is that it takes me longer than a day to pull together a response.

When I traveled to China before, I have been twice now, it has been with a lot of dependence on other people. I have managed surprisingly well and had some great experiences (see Let’s Go Fly a Kite, A Picture and a Phrasebook Saved the Day, and Happy Mama).  But this time I decided that

  1. I really want to be able to communicate with people on my own.
  2. I want to go to a couple of places that are not on the western tourist track on my own.

I only decided to go about two months before takeoff, a very short time for someone who is all but tone deaf to try and learn a tonal language.

Before my first and second trips I tried using two different book plus CD programs. With the first, I ran through it once then listened to it in the car. After almost a year and a half of doing that, including several trips to and from California where I heard all three CDs twice a day, I made almost no progress. I was unable to recognize the words when someone other than the canned voice spoke them, or come up with them myself in real life situations (Although, I can say nihao and xiexie). But worse than that, I really could not speak the phrases in the phrase book. I couldn’t figure out how to follow and correctly pronounce the pinyin (Chinese phonics system). Nor could I recognize if someone responded with a phrase in the phrase book.

With the second I just couldn’t get into it. I think it was designed more to be used as an aid in a class where the instructor took you through it rather than working on one’s own. I took that one with me to China last time and tried to work on it in the morning then go out and listen for the phrases. I never recognized a thing.

This time, with six weeks to go before take off I started an on-line course (YoyoChinese.com). This seems to be going better.  It helps to be able to see the person forming the words, and they focus on how the tones sound in a variety of real words (saying “ma” five different ways many, many, many times really didn’t help me). It also has a Chinese on the Street segment so you can hear a variety of voices using the material in context. So every morning now I am spending 45 minutes to an hour studying Chinese.

I know that some people have a better ear, are more linguistically oriented,  and are more courageous about trying than I am, but I really think the idea that one can just pick up a language with no effort is blarney.

T – 14 days for my real life test, I’d better get back to work.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Lazy Learners.”

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5 thoughts on “It is All Chinese to Me”

  1. Being lazy, it doesn’t happen to me with languages in general but it did happen with Chinese! I tried to give it a go 15 years ago but with no succes at all. Can you believe it? I was completely discouraged after only one week. I was so disappointed with myself. Tonal languages are too difficult and different from those I speak. That’s very brave of you, have a nice stay in China!

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    1. Chinese does seem overwhelming. There are so many things to learn that it is hard to know where to start. Even though I have learned some Japanese, they use some kanji (Chinese characters) but I did not get far enough to learn many of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Me too, I have been learning Japanese and I found it much easier. Especially the pronounciation, tonal exercices used to drive me mad with Chinese.

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