Posted by: 1of10boyz | April 23, 2013

Learning a Language


I struggle with my motivation and commitment to learn to speak Chinese. Every day I start off with the best of intentions, I will spend time learning Mandarin, but I end up with little effective studying accomplished. Sure I know that the experience over here would take on a completely different flavor if I was able to converse or at least eavesdrop on the conversations going on around me.

The advantages to being able to actually hold a regular conversation in Mandarin are innumerable. Yet, I struggle with my motivation to really get invested in the learning process. I have found it too easy to just get by with nodding my head and escaping a conversation with my all to ready excuse of “ting bu dong”, hear not understand.

I often forget that the people I work with are still learning their English because they do speak and understand nearly everything I say, or at least they come close enough to understanding that we get along quite well. Most of the people I work with have studied English from the time that they were 8 or 9 years old. For many that may be 3 decades, for most it is only 2 decades, I am indeed fortunate to interact with these kinds of people all the time. It does, however, make it difficult to stay motivated to learn Mandarin.

I have never been good with the study of language. I would readily admit, and my teachers would agree, that my classes in English were definitely not my best courses. In fact the only classes that I did worse in would have been Art. In my college experiences I was lucky to have many years of experience in the work environment that helped me become better in English. I have made significant progress in my formal English knowledge because of the types of jobs and work tasks that I have had to do. That doesn’t mean that it got any easy, just that I got more proficient at doing them.

While my experiences with English have proven that I can get more proficient, I still struggle mightily with some of the basics of the language. I have been rescued from that lack of knowledge and proficiency by using a word processor and computers. I can just type as fast as I can and these programs will use the ability of programmers and language experts to help me get the spelling correct and the punctuation at least close to acceptable. I still don’t have “Skills” with language. That is readily obvious when I have tried to learn other languages.

I spent many years in the US trying to learn Spanish. I took the course in High School, Senior Bagley would tell you that I was about average in my ability (as represented by my C- grade for the two semesters I attempted to learn that language). I learned door approaches in Spanish as a LDS Missionary in Southern California and enough Spanish to refer a contact to the Spanish-speaking missionaries working in the same area. To my own surprise and Elder Moffett’s and Elder Mendenhall’s surprise I could actually stumble through a Mandarin door approach then too with the use of a cheat card. I continued to try to learn Spanish as my children took those classes in Elementary and High School to no avail. I have so little “success” with language that it isn’t really surprising that I am effectively MONO-Lingual.

So, when I speak with my Chinese friends here it is almost exclusively in English. They try to teach me phrases that will help me in my interactions in the Country of China, always taking into consideration that my use of tones is likely wrong. We learn phrases and such that even if I use the wrong tone, more like – since I always use the wrong tone, the sentence will likely always be understood. I admire their ability to speak English as well as they do. I admit that the one thing I appreciate from them is they always tell me how good my Chinese is when I do speak. Sure, I know that culturally it is something that they always says, but it still makes me feel good about trying. It is also what keeps me thinking I should try harder to learn more.

So, here is to the greater desire and expectation to invest more time into learning (xue) to Speak (shuo) and Understand (dong) the language (wen) of the country (guo) I (wo) live (zhu) in, China (zhong guo).

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