June 15, 2012

Mid-Year Mandarin Check In

Amongst other things, one of my New Year's Resolutions for 2012 was to study Mandarin.

From the start this has been the most enjoyable of all of the goals I set for myself this year.  By March, I could laugh at simple jokes spoken in a language I'd never understood before, which has to be one of the greatest joys a human can experience.

I'm sad I didn't do this earlier.  I was intimidated by the fact that Mandarin is a tonal language (which is true, and definitely one of the more difficult things about it), but I had no idea how many other wonderful things there were about the language that would more than make up for the difficulty of the tones.

First, the lack of conjugation is a serious gift to learners of Mandarin.  Learn a new verb? Bam.  You are done.  You can confidently use it with with every subject in existence and, if you hear it, you know what it means.  AWESOME!

Second, the San Francisco Bay area has so much Mandarin -- I had no idea.  I have learned that every single ABC ("American Born Chinese") friend I have speaks more Mandarin than they'd ever let on.  It's only when confronted with my terrible Mandarin that they correct me and hint as to just how much they know and  understand while refusing to acknowledge a command of Mandarin.

Living in the Bay Area, I now know that I have the opportunity to listen and comprehend Mandarin every day.  I stop and listen to Mandarin speakers on the radio, on public broadcast TV, and, more often, in the street and local stores, every day.

Third, and a completely new linguistic bonus of fun for me, Hanzi are like a constant crossword puzzle at every turn of my life in Northern California.  I can't walk down the street or drive down any major thoroughfare without encountering characters.  Every day I stop (when walking) stare, and try to derive some meaning from the few radicals and characters I know plus the context of where the sign is.  Every day I think I discover one or more new "secrets" of this awesome code.

As someone who self-identifies as an auditory language learner, I had no idea I'd find learning the characters to be such a source of happiness.  I can't help but wonder if this is how fun it was for me to learn to read as a child.  Pure joy at recognition of written meaning is such a foreign concept to me at this point in my life.  What a gift to reclaim it through Mandarin study!

So, suffice it to say, this goal is going well.  Better than I expected.  The almost mid-year check-in is as follows:

- I've completed 34 newbie lessons on Chinesepod.com including listening to the Show, the Audio Review, and Reviewing the written materials for each one.  For a subset I can recognize all of the characters, but for the most part, with Chinesepod, I've focused on the auditory aspect.

-I can recognize and speak at least 100+ Mandarin words by sound alone and I can follow basic conversations about food, work, weekends, etc.  Every week, I have a Mandarin night with my teacher and a good bi-lingual friend.  Occasionally, we invite other bi-lingual speakers.  The ability to interact on simple topics in Mandarin has been one of my strongest sources of pleasure in this endeavor.

-I can recognize and write 57 Hanzi characters (as of tonight), plus I can guess at the meanings of others based on radicals.  I think I'd like to shoot for at least 200 by the year end.  Ambitious, I know.  But I think it's doable.

-Last week, I successfully hosted a party of bi-lingual Mandarin-English speakers and understood most of what was said in Mandarin, including jokes.

In short, this going better than I expected.  Every restaurant I go to, I hear Mandarin -- that's just the demographic of my life.  I hear it at In-N-Out, I hear it at Fiesta Del Mar, I hear it at the ramen joint.  It's just a question of whether I understand it.  Menus for Chinese restaurants, of course, are an additional welcome addition to the exposure.  And, I recently learned the bonus of Japanese menus as well... turns out, the Kanji and Hanzi are close enough that I can read them and understand a bit, too.

Mandarin 2012 -- going well! 

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