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Mandarin misadventures December 15, 2011

Posted by Siew in Education, Personal.
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I recently took an indefinite break from my Mandarin classes. There is a good possibility that this break will turn into a complete stop to be honest.

I am convinced that Mandarin is the hardest language in the world to learn, for 2 reasons.

1. Mandarin and all chinese dialects are tonal. This is one excuse that I cannot hide behind. I grew up speaking Cantonese, and spent my entire secondary life listening to people speak Mandarin. When I went to class, pronunciation was never a problem. But to the uninitiated, it can be a nightmare. I have watched people who never grew up with tonal languages mess up Mandarin as they try and learn. The worst part is, it seems like one of those things that you can either do or cannot do. I have watched the teacher repeat the word 5 times and every single time, the attempt at saying the word comes out completely different. Tonal languages are a bitch to learn.

2. When learning English, you learn what the word sounds like and then you learn the meaning. That’s only 2 things. With Mandarin, you need to learn 3; what it sounds like, what it means and what it looks like. There is no alphabet. There is only a very basic system that will allow you to guess some of the words (but at other times, lead you completely astray). That additional connection that needs to be made for every single word you learn is a hell of a lot of effort. You can never find someone who can speak English (or French or Spanish or German for that matter) who cannot read the language. But with Mandarin, its entirely possible.This one problem is enough to make Mandarin enough of an uphill battle to make me want to quit.

In all fairness, I don’t think I worked very hard at improving my Mandarin. I almost never did any work outside of the classroom. And perhaps the teaching , methods were not particularly suited to me. But this teacher is as close as I will ever get to someone who can teach Mandarin to an English speaker (most other teachers will treat their adult students like Primary 1 Mandarin students, which makes it much, much worse). The fact that this didn’t really work out probably means that I will never learn the language, unless I work a lot harder.

I haven’t given up completely yet. I will attempt to revert to book 1 of my lessons and see if I can improve my reading from there. If I can read the passages there without much problems, them maybe there is hope yet.

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