"There is no more lovely, friendly and charming relationship, communion or company than a good marriage."
--Martin Luther

Saturday, 2 February 2013

An Update on My Chinese Studies

I've mentioned it a few times on my blog, but in case you missed it, I have been taking Mandarin Chinese classes for the past year.  When I catch up with people in real life they often ask me how the classes are going, so I decided to post an update.

People ask me why on earth I would start learning Mandarin.  Isn't it hard?  Don't you have to learn characters?  My opinion is that of course it's not easy, but that's part of the fun!  I have always loved languages.  It's rare that I travel to a foreign country without buying at least a basic phrasebook and trying to use it.  I like the way we have so many ways to convey universal emotions and ideas.  I enjoy pondering the ways that distinctions in languages reflect the ways that different cultures perceive concepts.  I love meeting Christians from all over the world and knowing that even though God's Word sounds different to them than it does to me, it is the same Truth.

I first got interested in Mandarin when I lived with my friend C.  We were both language nerds, and would talk often about points of grammar and the similarity or dissimilarity of a word in different languages.  She spoke Mandarin, so she would teach me some terms, and I in turn taught her a little Russian.  From C, I learned to count to 10 in Mandarin, and my all time favourite Mandarin expression:  麻烦, (máfan) which means annoying, inconvenient, or troublesome. 

All of C's and my language-learning books and resources

When Gil and I started getting serious, I decided I would have to learn Mandarin.  His dad was a Mandarin teacher, and our niece and nephew in Asia speak Mandarin at home, so it makes sense for me to learn the language.  In addition, while I know I won't be able to bring our kids up bilingual Mandarin-English (or trilingual with German, which is my secret nerdy dream!), I'd like to be able to help them have some basic Mandarin skills.

Shortly after moving to Toronto, I decided to start Mandarin classes.  After all, I wasn't working, so why not fill the days with something useful.  My school specializes in small classes (usually with two or three students), so we get individual attention.  They also try to encourage us to use our skills by hosting Mandarin conversation time (which I rarely attend), and parties such as a Chinese New Year dumpling-making soiree, and a summer BBQ.  I love it!  There are students are literally from all around the world who have come to live here in Toronto:  I've met people from Germany, Russia, Korea, Hungary, Hong Kong, and Burundi.  I'm actually one of the very few native-born Canadians at the school.  It's a travel- and language-lovers dream.

Making dumplings (饺子) for Chinese New Year
Oh wait, I was supposed to update you on my progress...  :-P  I've been progressing pretty quickly.  When I started in late 2011, I knew a little conversational Mandarin from past studies, and could recognize a couple of characters.  I did about three months of strictly oral classes (using pinyin to write down vocabulary), and then last winter started learning to read and write characters.  In the spring, my teacher encouraged me to take a standardized test, and I thought she was crazy, but signed up anyway.  (I'm a glutton for punishment.)  It took a LOT of studying, but I passed the HSK Level 3 test last May and Level 4 in October.  I'm hoping to write Level 5 in the spring, along with an oral test, and have already started studying, as there is so much new vocabulary.

A lot of people have been surprised at how fast I've learned and have taken to writing Chinese characters.  While I do have a God-given knack for languages, I also want to stress that it's not easy.  I study a lot.  I have devoted hours and hours to writing out vocabulary and going through flashcards.  It's a lot of work... but I like it.  I can't wait to finally meet my niece and nephew and be able to talk to them in their mother tongue.  And if you're in the same boat as me, studying Mandarin or another language, I just want to encourage you to keep on persevering.  加油!

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