I have to admit; initially I was not too enthusiastic about learning Chinese. Before I arrived in Taiwan, I had gone online to Wikipedia, yes Wikipedia! My aim was to ‘educate’ myself as much as possible with the Chinese culture and see just how complicated the language was, and Oh My God! I find myself deflated when I started reading about the intricacies of the language, from that point I found it would be virtually impossible for me to even try to absorb the language, maybe just the culture. My goal thus was to use as much sign language as possible and hope that people understanding English will facilitate communication with them. Little did I know that Chinese was a requirement, you can imagine my shock when I was told this at first. I bowed my head in defeat and thought, this is it! My report card is going to have a nice big 0! With my spirits down I started my class and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Yes I was totally surprised at myself and the language. It was quite unbelievable, there was no grammar in mandarin, I did not have to beat myself up like I did when studying French. But tones, I could hear them but poor me could not repeat them. I have always been an avid music fan so picking up on tones was quite easy, however repeating some Mandarin tones was disastrous, because the second and third tone just came out sounding the same. It was hilarious, to me at least. However, I have to say I improved tremendously and I am among the best in my Chinese class which I feel quite unbelievable and definitely refreshing. Even though I am still learning the basics as Mandarin is quite complex.

We all know that learning a language does not stop in the classroom. You always have to put into practice what you have learnt. From my experience, practicing language outside of the classroom turns a language into a rainbow. I therefore decide to embark on practical language training outside my classroom and throw myself at the mercy of the streets in Taiwa. I suffered from Chinese shock. I felt as if I was hearing a totally different language, or maybe a language similar to Mandarin. It was fast, smooth and yes, very cool. I was totally at a loss for words, everything I had been taught went right out of the window in seconds. However, I refused to be intimidated and tried my best to understand and pick up on what I was hearing around me. Needless to say, I started picking up on words here and there and I recovered from my shock. One thing I found particularly funny was once I said a word or phrase or short sentence in Chinese to a store keeper or anyone I talked to in Mandarin, they automatically thought I could speak Chinese. And then they would decide to have a full blown conversation with this foreigner who happens to be ‘fluent’ in Chinese, for which of course they found very fascinating. I would undoubtedly suddenly space out and say ‘ting bu dong’. But they would continue speaking Chinese and leave me speechless and feeling absolutely stupid.

All in all, I have to say learning Chinese has been a more than wonderful experience for lack of a better term to express exactly how I feel about this experience. It has been both thoroughly educative and insightful with splatters of fun at every moment. If you ask am I willing to redo the whole experience again, I will say “Yes, definitely!”

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