There are a lot of words in American English that have confused me at one time or another, cilantro being the first mystery I had to solve. With all this Mexican food, surely they must have coriander! Luckily I now have coriander planted outdoors so I won’t have to go looking for cilantro anymore.
Chinese language (Mandarin) & character writing
Recently after a night out I accomplished something that I had unsuccessfully attempted on more than one occasion. I phoned a taxi and it came.
During previous efforts I always had to hang up halfway through the conversation with the Chinese telephone operator. Communication issues. I would usually be able to tell them in Chinese what my location was, however I could never understand what came next.
Even though my dad was once a teacher, I never had much interest in the profession. When I was asked to start a conversational English class with Chinese employees, I was only mildly excited but decided to give it a try just for the experience (and the cash…).
Did I mention that I love learning Chinese?
Even though I have been at it for almost a year now and still feel like I don’t speak much, I do enjoy it most of the time. From the start I have been collecting words or sayings that I really like or find interesting and I thought it was time to share some of my favorites!
Here they are:
- yǒu qián -> lit. have money = wealthy
- mǎi dōng xi -> lit. buy east west = shopping
- tíng chē -> lit. stop car = to park
- – add chǎng (meaning a large space) to make tíngchēchǎng = car park
- cháng dèng -> lit. long stool = bench
- kǎo xiāng -> lit. roast box = oven
- wèn dá jìngsài -> lit. ask answer competition = quiz
- guò mǎ lù -> lit. cross horse road = to cross
- bù kěnéng -> lit. not maybe = impossible
- huǒ huā -> lit. fire flower = spark
- xiào huà -> laugh words = joke
- jiǔ ròu péngyou -> lit. alcohol meat friend = fair weather friend
- xǐ wǎn jī -> lit. wash bowl machine = dishwasher
- shǒu jī -> lit. hand machine = mobile phone
- diàn chuī fēng -> lit. electric(ity) blow wind = hair dryer
And lastly yīlù shùnfēng -> lit. all the way along the wind = have a pleasant journey!
Writing on a regular basis still requires a little practice. This goes just as much for my blog as it does for my Chinese characters! It’s hard to keep a routine going when all your trusted routines seem to malfunction, like going out for a late lunch on the weekend means you end up eating together with the wait staff. Of course the lack of routines makes life more interesting so I guess it’s better than boredom.
Every class my teacher gives me five Chinese characters to add to my collection. The idea being that I practice them at home and increase my written vocabulary. I’m happy I can already read the ‘mind your head’ signs and can sometimes work out the name of a store. Although I think some stores may still apply the right to left writing so even the character recognizer (or should I say cheat-app) on my phone sometimes gets confused.
This week I finished my last Chinese class as a ‘Survivor‘. An appropriate title for a beginner course as it feels like surviving most of the time. Keeping my head above the water as a sea of strange sounds tries to drown me!
As I was writing my presentation for the end of the last module (I have survived three) I once again realised how much there is still to learn. Remembering words is easy. Remembering their tone marks, not so much. And that’s of course exactly the part that makes you screw up the pronounciation, gets you strange looks, etc etc. I am considering signing up for the next level 3 HSK exam as this may be the proverbial Dutch stick I need behind the door. On the bright side, I am able to tell a joke and a few taxi drivers have laughed at them. Now you can never be sure they are laughing at the joke as I can imagine my speech is funny to them too but so far the laughing has only occurred at the punch line and not during the whole ‘conversation’ so I think I’m ok.
In the meantime I continue to survive all sorts of things, good and bad, in this strange but wonderful land. From tasty pancakes to floating pigs, when its good its good but when its bad, it really is bad. It makes China very interesting but also hard to comprehend at times. But I continue to the next level of my course which is called ‘Social‘ so who knows I may be able to chat about it over a cup of coffee soon.
Since we have moved to China my English has definitely deteriorated. I won’t even mention my Dutch as that has been going down the tube for a long time (I found myself saying ‘helpte’ recently, which obviously only makes sense to those who speak Dutch and even then it may not).
I’m not sure if it has something to do with trying to make myself understood in English or if it is just because I am learning a new language which has a different structure (although sometimes it feels like it has none at all). Maybe it’s a combination of both. For example saying ‘more better’, instead of just saying it the correct way sometimes helps. In Chinese the adjective does not change, instead they add a word so for example faster is translated as ‘more fast’. The more Chinese I learn, the more I can hear it coming through when Chinese people speak English.
Sometimes living in a foreign culture puts you in touch with the less pleasant parts of your personality especially when your patience gets tested and even more so when you are not a very patient person to begin with.
When we returned to China after our little Christmas break in Europe, things just weren’t the same. With my appetite gone and my previous enthusiasm for learning Chinese evaporated into thin air, they all started turning against me… or so it seemed.