Monday, December 3, 2012

Chinese lessons

Hello family and friends.
I'm sorry I've been so slow to write since we came back this summer.  One of the reasons is my Chinese lessons.  

Upon returning from the US this summer, I noticed that my kids were talking to each other, and understanding each other, in Mandarin. This made me nervous.  I had no idea what they were talking about.  So the next day I shelled out $1000 US to take mandarin lessons myself.  For those of you who didn't know me in high school, I took 3 yrs of Spanish, followed by 2 semesters in college.  And even though my maiden name is Cisneros, I can only ask "where is the bathroom".  So it's safe to say that language is not my strong suit.  

We started on my birthday, Sept 11.  There were 5 of us in the class.  We were meeting every tues and thurs from 12:10 –2:40.  By the third week, we were down to three.  We have two weeks left and now there is only 2 of us.  We aren't learning the characters.  We use a system called pinyin.  Which is the "roman" alphabet used to teach word pronunciation.  For example, for hello we write "ni hao" instead of the characters.  Unfortunately, my kids are learning characters, not pinyin.  So when I am butchering the pronunciation of the word, my kids will say "I can't understand you.  What's the character."  No help what so ever.   And the pronunciation is hard.  There are 4 tones, or accents to use.  And they use the same letters over and over again.  I never want to see another word starting with an x, z of q.  because depending on the tone or the letter following it, those letters can sound 9 different ways.  So, to turn left you would say zhou guay.  But it's pronounced tshzou gway.  Right turn is you guay, pronounced yo gway.  Very similar.  And when you're in the back seer of a taxi cab, the driver can't tell the difference.  Oh and don't get me started on "r".  Imagine flattening your tounge, teeth closed and tip of tounge behind your front teeth.  All that makes me do is have spittle fly out of the corners of my mouth.  

Our teacher has told us to use our language "skills" out on the streets.  To be honest, I suck so bad that I am afraid to do so.  The first time I tried I took the family to the frou frou expat mall to the dim sum house.  This is the mall where all the expats shop so most of the people working there can work out your english.  But I told my family we were only going to order in mandarin.  I opened my mouth and said "wo yao xia lom bao".  Which means I want dumplings.  I even pointed to the item on the menu.  She apologised and got another waitress.  Now this sometimes happens when you speak english and they need someone who understands what you're saying.  BUT I WAS SPEAKING MANDARIN.  The next waitress came and I repeated what I wanted.  She responded by repeating my order in english.  So when I said "wo yao wu tian kele" she said "you want diet coke?".  At this point Lauren said "please order in english mom, I'm hungry".  Quint looked at the waitress and said something in mandarin that made the waitress laugh.  After she left, I asked what he said.  "I told her your chinese sucks".  Needless to say, the rest of the meal was pretty quiet.  I've also tried to talk to our driver, Mr. Li.  Very little success there.  One time I tried to say something in a market.  The lady said "sorry I don't speak english".  Sigh.

Our teacher is so very patient with us.  I would be pulling my hair out if I had to teach me.  As soon as we walk in the door, she starts talking in Mandarin.  We've had about 60 hrs of lessons so I should know what she is saying by now, but she started that on day 1.  She has also forbidden us to use "wo bu ji dao" which means I don't know.  And by 2:oo (or xiawu er dian) my mind is a total pile of goo.  One time, she was telling the class how good my pronunciation was (hahaha) and one of my classmates had to tell me she was talking about me.  My coffee buddies, Mike and Nigel, were taking the same class, but at a different time with a different teacher.  We were all approaching the end of book one when they told me that their teacher was giving them a test.  I laughed and though "what a hard ass".  The studied for about 3 weeks.  The week before they were to take their test, our teacher hands us a 8 page test with a half an hour (or for all you speaking chinese "ban dian") to take it.  We didn't study.  It was 8 pages.  With a freaking essay.  Trish (my classmate) and I totally freaked out.  Our teacher said, ok take it home to do.  So I took it home, worked on it for hours.  Totally looked up the words I couldn't remember.  Did everything but let Lauren write my essay for me.  I would have, but she only knows characters, remember?  That would've been kinda a hint that it wasn't my work.  And I still failed.  Well actually, I got a lot wrong.  And so did Trisha.  But the teacher said we both did "hen hao" or very good (haha). So did the "administrator" or office manager.  Then they proceeded to tell us that we should sign up for next semester.  I don't think that is gonna happen.  At this point, I'm so done.  Scott has also started taking chinese because he is afraid that I will start talking to the kids.  He has had about two weeks of private lessons.  He will try to correct me.  Really?  Half the time he has no idea what he is talking about and I have to put him in his place.  Unfortunately, the other half, he's right.  

Talk to you (in english) soon
Sue/Scott Radeker
1983 Huamu Lu, No. 157
Pu Dong New District, Shanghai, PRC, 201204
Home: +86.21.3393.3763
China Mobile: +86.182.1761.9504
US Mobile:  +1.502.526.6628

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