Monday, July 2, 2012

Dawdling along in Mandarin Part II


It has been a few weeks learning Mandarin Chinese. My approach with this language is different from other languages. When I learned French, Italian, and Spanish I took classes at a community college or University. While living in Mexico I studied Swedish and Spanish with Rosetta Stone. In class I was always given a syllabus to follow and assignments to complete. I had exams that I needed to pass.

When I started Pimsleur, and Introduction to Mandarin Chinese, I took a different approach and started to learn the language phonetically. This simply means that I am listening to the spoken language and learning it by ear. Some say that we should start off with both reading and listening.  Usually that is what I do.  But Chinese is so different from anything that I have known, I decided that I needed to listen to the language, the phonemes and most important – the tones. Chinese words rise, fall, plateau, fall and rise again. The words remind me of rough ocean waves with their rising and falling. The words and phrases are a series of peaks and valleys, as if nature formed this language rather than the pragmatic need to communicate.


The first lessons of Pimsleur Mandarin Chinese teach basic phrases and greetings. “Hello” “How are you?” “Are you American?” ”I am not Chinese.” These are some pretty weak examples of what I have been learning. My studies of Mandarin ‘Po-ton-wa’, or as the Chinese would say, ‘common language’, has consisted only of elementary words and phrases. I am not even at the elementary level. I am still in preschool learning how to finger paint.

I am not using any books. I am not using software. I am not watching any DVD’s. I have not even made a notebook. I have not made a notebook. I am only listening and repeating after the speaker.

I made it up to lesson Four in Pimsleur and two days ago, I started listening to Living Language, Mandarin Chinese. Living Language takes a different audio approach. It does not contain the memorized conversations like Pimsleur. It goes through nuts and bolts, basic words with their English translation. Remember everything is spoken. I have not opened a single book or dictionary.

As I started listening to the first few lessons of Living Language Chinese, I started to recognize some words and phrases from the Pimsleur program. “Hello” ”Good Buy” ”Thank You” and them man other basic words like ”no” “yes” “street” and personal pronouns. I must admit, when I started Living Language it felt good to come upon words that I recognized from Pimsleur.

Even though my video series is called, “Anyone Can Be a Polyglot,” I must also add that when I say ‘anyone’, what I really mean to say is “Anyone willing to work for it.” If one is lazy, busy or unwilling to invest the time then they cannot become a polyglot.

After I am finished with my dawdling along in Mandarin, there will be a point when I will have to take a class and pound the mental pavement. Of course, I will have to make a decision about where I want to go with the language. Do I want to work towards fluency? How much am I willing to invest? If I want to become fluent I will have to arrive at a point where all my dawdling has accumulated into something meaningful. The time will come when I will have to start investing one hour every day studying the language. I will have to make that notebook, the dictionary, and complete written assignments.

So, that is my update. Fifteen minutes a day in Mandarin Chinese has started to cumulate to the point where I recognize basic words and phrases. Not very eventful. But that is what language learning is about, a series of uneventful milestones that will hopefully create something great.

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