Well now that I’ve explained the first ridiculously high target I’ve set myself over the summer – it’s time for the next one!
This one is a little bit absurd and is going to sound crazy until I explain it, and even then it’ll still sound outrageous.
So here’s the commitment – by the end of summer – I want to learn conversational Chinese – which means become good enough to converse with native speakers of the language.
This means I’ve got three months, and a hell of a lot of work to be getting on with!
This sounds outrageous, I’m sure, however the more I think about it, the more I think I can do it, and the more I want to do it.
First of all I will have a lot of help – I have a lot of friends who are fluent in Chinese to help me, invites from two separate people to visit them in China, more free time than frankly anyone needs and to be honest, a good strategy. Not to mention like two years of being taught the language at school in year 12 and 13 before coming to uni. So it’s not like I’m starting from scratch.
As well as that I have tried to learn many languages before to moderate degrees of success. I did Spanish since a very young age, French for two years when I was 12-14, Japanese for a couple of months when I tried learning it on my own, I guess Latin for a couple of weeks before dropping out of classes, and yet, even though I’ve studied other languages for longer, and never really cared about Chinese at all while I was studying it – no language has ever felt the same to me.
Let’s take Spanish for example. I always found it difficult to do anything with the language past what I’d been taught, say anything I really wanted too, or improvise.
But with the Chinese language, I’ve felt a noticeable difference, where I can adapt it to say things that I want too, combine separate things I’ve learned together to say more complicated things and ultimately just have a better time with it.
This could be a bad habit for language learning, but sometimes I find myself thinking and having fake conversations in the language in a similar way you may play out scenarios in English. Of course I can’t confirm that these make any sense, or go past even a sentence or two before realising I don’t know the words that I’d like to reply with. But every once in a while, I think Chinese that resembles a real (though obviously very simple) conversation and think – yeah this is possible.
Let’s talk about the pro’s and cons of learning the language, from the perspective of what’s good about the language and what’s difficult about the language.
Reading and Writing – this is obviously awful. Chinese shares Japan’s writing system where you have to memorise over 2000 symbols just to even read! It’s crazy hard to learn! But the advantage is, that once you learn them, they have the same meaning as Japanese Kanji mostly, so it’s transferable!
Speaking and Listening – this is obviously awful as well. Chinese may have much shorter words than any other language, but that doesn’t mean that it’s any more simple! Let me introduce you to tones, of which there are 5. You can say the “ma” 5 times and depending on the way you pronounce it, it could genuinely mean 5 different words! Granted, people will give you the benefit of the doubt, and use context to determine the word as well. But it’s still crazy hard to listen out for these specific tones, never mind repeat them!
So it’s all bad, right?
Well not exactly.
Grammar – I would personally say that from what I’ve seen so far the Chinese grammar system is great. It doesn’t seem to suffer from the complex rules and regulations that English grammar suffers from nearly as much, and it mostly seems consistent. This is the main reason why it feels so easy to use Chinese, and obviously the more you learn it and feel like you’re able to use it, the better you’ll be.
One concept that is highly relevant to the language, and that I’m well aware I’m suffering from right now is called the Dunning-Kruger effect
Right now I’m insanely low down on the competence chart, which means I have a lot more confidence in the language than I have any right to have, and right now I see my predictions of what learning the language will involve being squashed completely.
But I can’t change that about myself yet until I get better. It’s weird, even though I know it’s obviously not nearly going to be that simple, I still can’t help but think that it will be. I’m fully aware that this is wrong – as proven by the graph above.
But what I’m hoping for, is that the point at the peak of the confidence level is somewhere around conversational level. Far from perfect, and you’ll make mistakes all the time, but you will be able to at least converse! That’s basically what I’m counting on for this to work.
The plan: The essentials, the most common phrases and words, and to make people taking Chinese for their four year uni course wonder why they didn’t just do this instead!
If you are currently learning any language, please share tips, they’re much appreciated!
Also if this interests you, you can find two more Mandarin posts here!
The first one is a review of the language learning app duolingo which I’m still using!
The second is about how I was cheated out of a trip to china, and ultimately got myself a Chinese qualification by cheating the system! You can find that here
If you don’t have advice you can also convince me of how ridiculous this idea is, God knows I feel way more confident with the language than I have any right to be!