When I came to Taiwan, learning Chinese was one of my goals but I have never imaged that I actually could do it. Almost everybody who comes to Taiwan will definitely study Chinese formally but let me tell you my personal story about how I learned mandarin. I am not truly an “easy languages’ learner” but it has been a nice experience learning bit of this amazing idiom, very hard though... Let’s start:

Before I came to Taiwan I was in “0” about my Chinese ability, but luckily I met a Taiwanese friend who by that time, was living in Bolivia. She taught me some words such as “xie xie” or “chi fan”. I had a list of around 30 useful items that would help me to face my life in Asia at the beginning, but… when I arrived to Taiwan I realized that I had forgotten not only the pronunciation of those words but also the list that contained the 30 items, so I was in “0” again. The first two weeks of my stay I and my friends took a small course of Chinese prepared by the organization we belonged: International Cultural Youth Exchange - ICYE. Around 15 Taiwanese young people and 15 foreign guys were living together where we called our “orientation camp”. We had 4 hours a day of Chinese class in which we learned mainly the five tones of the words. I remember playing games and repeating and repeating and repeating the tones until we almost fall asleep. The professor was a very young girl who made the two weeks course extremely funny. She tried to teach us useful vocabulary like the colors or fruits but honestly, the only thing I can remember from that time was: “the tones” pretty good actually, because later I found just few difficulties to pronounce the words.

After that course, I start working as a volunteer on a nursing home in Ping Tung. As you know this city is located in the south part of Taiwan and the people of that area speak only Chinese or Taiwanese or other local languages, what means that I had no choice… I had to learn Chinese. As usual what we learned “formally” is not always the same as the local way of communication. Therefore I went back to my “0”. There the adventure started. The first month I only used body language to communicate then…I bought a small pocket notebook which I carried for almost a year. I used to write 3 to 5 words per day and I used to ask my Taiwanese friends to help me with the pronunciation. By doing that I learned to speak and understand a little Chinese… well a mixture of Chinese, Taiwanese and...Little bit of English. It was really funny.

After a year, I got the scholarship of ICDF and I started officially learning Chinese. That process was very hard and I will explain why. First of all, what I learned during the first year of living in Ping Tung, was a bunch of single words that I could understand from a conversation; that I could pronounce and everybody were able to understand and that I could on my way write using pinyin, my own pinyin. Therefore, when I started to use the real pinyin, it was a tough job for me to change my mental schema. Secondly, the writing part was extremely difficult and time consuming. With all my regular courses at the university practicing mandarin writing was almost impossible. Thirdly, as I told you previously, the way of communication that I learned in Ping Tung was a king of mixture of different languages so as soon as I got Taipei and tried to talk, people started to laugh on my south accent and my way of mixing Taiwanese words with Chinese ones; or simply they couldn’t understand what I was trying to say. For example, one day that was hardly raining, one of my friends was about to sit down in a wet seat and I told her “neige wei zi shi (Chinese: that seat is) dum dum (Taiwanese: wet)”. Everybody laugh and I will never forget that anecdote. Lastly, in Taipei most of the students have very good level of Chinese, that made me feel ashamed, because mine wasn’t that good, but anyway I had the personal commitment to improve my language ability and I kept trying my best.

Currently, I still can’t read or write a lot; I still can’t talk as other foreign people do, but I am proud of myself that what I learned was my own effort and that I am still on the way to improve my Chinese even more and more and as more as I can.

Andrea Moscoso Riveros - 李曼玲

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