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24. My Experience of Learning Mandarin

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.

 My name is Mariana and my native language is Spanish. Studying English for me was not as hard as starting to know and learn the basic words in Mandarin, since I started school at 2 years old, I got used to listening words in English, and having a daily interaction with native English speakers helped me to improve my comprehension, accent, and vocabulary. Now studying Mandarin as my third language helped me realize the many other languages out there that most people have no idea how wonderful they are. Mandarin is a language full of meaning ,history and art.

I’m sure the first impressions are not always the most important, but they certainly count. Taiwan causes a big impression on me, the language itself is widely known by people as one of the hardest languages. Now coming to Taiwan meant three things for me, hard work, tolerance, and lots of adventures. My hard work had to start with my studies, and that meant my career and getting to know, and speak fluent Mandarin, that is the hardest part of all. I remember myself trying to pronounce the words correctly, and my teacher to whom I learned to call lao shi, -If you know Mandarin, you know that in English it means teacher-, well he had a hard task, and his work consisted of teaching newcomers basic words that could help us to have a brief but polite conversation with any person around us. When I was tough how to say “hi how are you?” in mandarin, and when they gave me my translated name I simply couldn't stop telling people around my name, and asking around how were they doing. It was so exciting for me to know at least two simple questions that make a big difference from only using signs as a way of communication, and from now at least knowing the name of person you are dealing with, it was simple but for me, it was a big deal. That was just the beginning, when having my first formal class with my new lao shi, I knew lots of hard work, dedication and tolerance had to be applied. As any typical foreigner I had to learn how to say hamburger , and how to find one. So finding food that I liked, and knowing how to ask for it became my personal quest. That's when the adventures started, when living at the university doors you get to have some advantages like having the night market close, the subway and the McDonalds’, finding them was the problem, I was lucky that the taxi driver understood McDonalds’ since it sounds similar with Chinese.

Asia have grown to be a force in terms of its market size and its human resources. As at 2008 the world population was estimated at about 6.8billoin, out of this about a billion or more speak Chinese. Therefore with such a potential market and recent economic growth, the Chinese language has become an added advantage in ones CV (curriculum vita).

Taiwan, the little Formosa Island located in East Asia provides a good environment for learning this very important language. Taiwan is a democratic country, with a high standard of education, and one of the four Asian Tigers, the highly developed economies in East Asia includeing Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea and Taiwan. These regions were the first newly industrialized countries, noted for maintaining exceptionally high growth rates and rapid industrialization between the early 1960s and 1990s.

I would like to start by mentioning that Mandarin is one the hardest languages to study, but I also need to admit that it is one of the most important languages nowadays. Since my first day in Taiwan, my biggest problem has been communication in different aspects; from ordering food to trying to explain my symptoms to the doctor when I´m sick.
When I was informed that I was granted with the TaiwanICDF scholarship, the first thing that came to my mind was the idea of learning such an important language, as Mandarin is. I was more exited of learning the language than actually getting my Master Degree. My family as well as my friends told me that this was my best opportunity to learn the language, and we all thought that being in Taiwan will facilitate this goal. I thought that living in Taiwan for two years and sharing everyday with Taiwanese people will be enough to learn the language. I have been in Taiwan for almost one year , and now I realized that I was so wrong about this. Sharing with people just help you learn enough to ask for food and buy stuff, but not in more difficult situations. My family and friends are still wrong about this idea; they think that since I have lived in Taiwan for almost a year, I can speak fluent Mandarin.

 你好. Nice to write again, specially a topic I considered very important: my experiences learningMandarin. Well, I have to be forthright since the beginning; I still have a long way to go, to say: 我說一口流利的中文.

Learning Chinese have been a gratifying challenge to me. Here is a list of all the activities I have done to learn Mandarin: (1) taken Mandarin required classes; (2) language exchange with Taiwanese; (3) listen to MP3 lessons while jogging; and, (4) learn to sign a couple of famous Taiwanese songs.

Then, how is my Mandarin? I would say, improving. Knowing a new language is not something that I can prove just with a certificate or a grade in my transcripts. I cannot show a diploma or a high score in a test, and say, confidently, "Look, I know this language.” Surely, there will be a Taiwanese willing to have a substantial conversation in his native language. Therefore, I rather prefer to say that I still have room to improve, before saying: "I am fluent in Mandarin."

After being in Taiwan for almost one year now, I have come to understand and learn a lot from the nice and generous people who live here, as well as learning the culture of my fellow colleagues from different parts of the world. Learning to adapt to the culture and way of life is still a challenge but life itself is a challenge. So we must begin somewhere. Appreciating new cultures and especially the one in Taiwan is a good experience so far for me. I have tasted various of food and learnt about some way of life by going around different areas of Taiwan, especially in the south of Taiwan where I live. So much to see and do, but we take it easy. Because three more years we have is more than enough to discover new stories and way of life in Taiwan.

It has been almost one year I am in the beautiful Formosa Island. Mandarin has been one of my goals in this country. I am really trying to get into it but as well as everybody knows it is kind of hard but not impossible. At the beginning it was complicated because I really couldn’t understand anything. Nowadays is almost the same but I am trying to improve myself every day. I have taken mandarin classes but time with Master program sometimes is tough, but when I hear Taiwanese talking, I get excited because it is a beautiful and interesting language. It is amazing to study how each character has its own history and sometimes is even more interesting when characters reflect things of their own meaning. I really want to speak it, at least 75% (my goal). It will be hard but I think I can do it. I am always trying to listen to conversations, study new vocabulary, write characters and the most difficult, remember everything. Studying mandarin requires time and passion. my Taiwanese friends are always trying to help me. It is a good help. I am happy when I start talking and local people can understand me. That’s an amazing feeling because you can see that you know how to speak but sometimes when you don’t understand anything it isn’t good at all, especially when you need something.

I have always been fascinated with languages from a very tender age. In Saint Lucia we speak our native language English and then a French Kweyol (creole). Although at home I was encouraged to speak English, I cannot remember ever being discouraged to speak my second language which is a French Kweyol. My love for languages grew more and more when I was awarded a scholarship to study in Venezuela. I grasped the opportunity to learn the Spanish language not knowing how it would come in handy, but as I looked back I can truly say the experience was worth it. I was able to do translations (English-Spanish and Spanish-English) on various occasions and that helped improved my comprehension and writing skills. I decided then that I would take every opportunity to appreciate every language that I was granted an opportunity to learn. Little did I know that another wonderful opportunity would be awaiting me and would come sooner than later. With that in mind, the real test came when I arrived in Republic of China, Taiwan. As much as I love languages, I just could not fathom how strokes can be interpreted into words. It all just seemed like an impossible task to even attempt or want to venture into. I was determined however, not to create a mental blockage, but I wanted to give it a try.

 Will the combat eventually develop into a manifestation of success? Learning a foreign language takes time and dedication, particularly when you are dealing with a language as intricate as Mandarin Chinese. No one said it was going to be “piece of cake,”but I doubtlessly thought it would become a phenomenal experience for me. I have been learning Mandarin for one year and whether it has unfolded a benefit or composed a challenge, it has certainly influenced my life, so let me talk to you about my remarkable experience.