Learning the language.

Every week, for 2 hours, we have Mandarin class. 2 hours a week is nowhere near enough time to confidently grasp the Chinese language, but our contract states we have to have 2 hours, so there you go! I do find it very interesting, and my advisor says my pronunciation is really good, which I am chuffed about. It’s just actually remembering the sentences, that’s the difficult part. The Chinese language is backwards to English. For example ‘shēng rÌ kuài lè’ means in Chinese ‘birthday happy’. ‘kuài lè’ means happy. So not only do you have to learn the pin yin, but you also have to remember the order of the words.

When you are asking for the price of, say a t-shirt, you would have to say ‘t-shirt, how much?’ in Chinese. This, to foreigners would be bad English grammar, where we would say ‘how much is the/this t-shirt?’ instead.  Irish is a little similar to Chinese, because a lot of the sentences are backwards. ‘You eat’ in Irish becomes ‘itheann tú’. In English, translated literally, it becomes ‘eat you’. (itheann: eat) (:you) My teaching companion is English so she found it really hard to understand how Chinese is backwards. From learning Irish, I understood it a lot more and just accepted it.

Although I have been in China for over 2 months now, I still have very basic Chinese. I know the basic: hello, how are you, too dear, how much, I want to take-away, I want, no, yes, numbers 1-100, good morning, good night, potato, rice, meat. These are the basic sentences you need to know in Chinese to get by. When I listen to my Chinese friends, I understand WHO they are referring to when they are speaking. Wŏ: me, wŏ men: we all, nǐ: you, tā:he/she. So when they are saying I always wonder are they talking about me!

But all is not lost. I’ve been noticing that I’m becoming a lot better at reading pinyin. At the beginning, I couldn’t pronounce any words, but now I’m reading them a lot more confidently, and getting most of them right too! At least one thing is improving!

My Chinese students always ask me can I speak Chinese, and my answer is always no. Then to reassure me, they say ‘Chinese is very difficult to learn’ THANKS! If I’m hearing that from a NATIVE Chinese speaker then what hope do I have of ever learning it. But in fairness they do try and help me. Yesterday we were talking about Chinese food and they would tell me the Chinese word of it and I would repeat. They would clap and they’d be delighted that I said it correctly.

In fairness though, I would know a lot more Chinese if I tried more. But after classes I just be exhausted and the last thing I want to do is learn Chinese. On the days I am working late, I finish work at 8:40pm and I’m in bed by 9:30pm.

All the time, students say that their English is very bad. So then I have to keep reassuring them that they have good English, which many do. I keep telling them that they can have a conversation with me in English. They understand me, and I understand me…. That’s the most important thing. I say to them that my Chinese is so bad I wouldn’t be able to have a conversation with them in Chinese.

There is a big difference between my 1st years and 3rd years. My 1st years English is quite limited. I wouldn’t be able to have a long discussion about the education system in China. It would be more basic discussions about what’s your favourite country and the like. This makes my life more difficult because my lesson plans have to be more structured. Most of my 3rd year students are good at English, where we would have different discussions about almost anything.

I was the first native English speaker to arrive to this school, so I think they are beginning to understand they are well capable of speaking English when they speak with me. I say to them that they are very lucky they can speak 2 languages, and that I can only speak 1. Ha I’m actually jealous! So that’s why I want to push to learn Chinese, because I know it would help me in the future….

The only problem is, it’s gonna take a while.

Aisling.

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