It’s amazing just to find out how many people can speak even a little bit of English. I manage to get my daily life here, with my limited vocabulary and my miming skills, but I manage.
But some people don’t realise how incredibly difficult Mandarin is. I’m in Sichuan, so they don’t even speak Mandarin, they have their own dialect called Sichuan dialect, which is very different to Mandarin. Chinese people study both Mandarin ( the Beijing dialect) but they also have their own dialect from their own province, which they mostly talk. So if someone from Beijing came to Sichuan they wouldn’t understand the dialect, so the person from Sichuan would have to speak the Mandarin dialect so they can understand each other. So that means, most of what I hear isn’t Mandarin. Not a good start to try and learn the language.
Secondly, they use characters. This means from restaurants to basically everything, it’s in characters. So you can’t practice the language because all you constantly see is characters.
Thirdly, the tones are so hard. In Pinyin (how foreigners learn Chinese) you have the tones. But even if you see the tones, that still doesn’t mean it’s that tone. Say for example you say “ nĭ hăo”. This means hello. So, you would think you pronounce the tones above the letter ‘I’ and ‘a’. This is not the case. Instead, to make it easier to say it, you pronounce the ‘nĭ’ with a ‘ní’. So the tone rises up, instead of rising, falling and rising once again.
Even if you know the vocabulary, it’s difficult saying the sentence. You have to remember the vocab, tone and the grammatical structure of the sentence. If you get the tone wrong, most of the time they won’t understand you. This happen’s loads of times.
But also the majority of Chinese people can’t speak any English, although there are a few that pop up. For instance, today I was paying my bills. Thankfully the lady in the internet shop could speak some English, while using her dictionary to help; she explained to me what I needed to do. It makes life so much easier when they speak a little English.
Then I went to pay my maintenance fee. The man said something to me and I replied in Chinese ‘Wo ting bu dong’; I don’t understand. So there we were, stuck. I replied ‘wo yao’ and pointed to my piece of paper, meaning I wanted to pay.
Then this family walked in with the grandfather at the front. And he suddenly spoke English to me, asking do I want to pay my maintenance fee. We then talked for a few minutes and I told him where I was from.
Very few older Chinese people speak English, so I was very surprised to see that he could. It’s mainly the younger generation who are studying English that speak to me.
It’s a slow process learning Mandarin unfortunately.