For those who keep up with my blog, I’m sure you’ve seen many references to me learning Mandarin, or Putonghua for those who prefer it being referred to as that. A little background on my “language” abilities. I have grown up in a household of speaking Cantonese, with only English “taught” to me at home, but it was expected I speak Cantonese at home. I remember when I went through that phase of ‘just’ wanting to speak English, my parents told me clearly that if I’m unable to ask for something in Cantonese, it was not happening – this included if I asked for something to eat. I’m sure in today’s standard, that would be considered child-abuse, but my parents idea was if you can’t ask for it in Cantonese, you aren’t getting it! I’m quite glad I was forced to learn Cantonese because it is so damn useful knowing a different language, especially your ‘own’ language.
I was enrolled in “Chinese school” (you’ll understand why I quote that later) for about 6 years. I met a lot of friends there and we were all native Chinese, with those varying from general communication vocabulary to those who could barely say ‘good morning’ to their parents in the morning. Nevertheless, through those 6 years, I cannot say I learn a great deal. Most of my learning just simply came from using it at home and watching Chinese movies. Although in class we were taught to read, write, speak and understand Chinese (Cantonese dialect), during recess or anytime the students communicated with each other, it was all in English. The class was much more of a place for you to “drop off your kids for a few hours” rather than true, hardcore learning. Then again, these classes combined kids from 5 to 15, making an “appropriate teaching level” incredibly hard, especially when you have those who were much more fluent such as I compared to those of my friends who could barely say their own names in Cantonese. I remember I used to loathe my parents for forcing me to learn a language that I would ‘not be practical’ – but let’s face it.. look around the world, Chinese (particularly Mandarin) is working its way up to being one of world’s “international business language.” I’ve seen many Caucasian people taking up an interest in learning Mandarin, mostly because it can move them quickly up the ladder and especially if you plan on doing business with China. Although when I return to Hong Kong I have problems navigating or ordering at places that have menus strictly in Chinese, at the very least I can speak and listen well enough to hold my own.
So before I started learning Mandarin, I had an excellent grasp of spoken/listening to Cantonese, very minor written/reading comprehension of Chinese characters and almost completely fluent in written/reading/spoken/listening of English. Although I had always known that knowing more languages never hurts, languages are not a particularly easy thing to learn… or at least not for me. Also, females seem to be a lot more adept at picking up languages than guys due to biological factors. I remember that I was one of the top 3 students in my grade during high school in French. My French teacher had highly encouraged me to continuing my pursuit of French due to “natural ability” for it. The truth is I didn’t have any natural ability in French, I simply studied very hard for my class, with many hours dedicated when I got home to learning enough to do well on my tests. In the end, I stopped taking French after my mandatory credit year because I just didn’t feel like it was useful in my future career field (in computers). Secondly, learning French was very hard for me, so as much as my teacher thought I had a knack for it, I really didn’t.
The reason I never took up Mandarin before was because I saw it as a language of little use to me. To me, speaking Cantonese was already enough, along with the most useful language in Canada, English. My cousin had always said I should definitely pick up Mandarin so I can hit on all those cute Taiwanese chicks. I’ve never found a Taiwanese girl I’ve really been interested in, so I never felt that desire to learn it. Furthermore, I have this unfortunate (and I’m not claiming it to be correct) equation of Mandarin and China-Mainlander girls who I did not have the most positive feelings about. Over time as I was deciding to pick up Mandarin so that communication would be easier between bebe and I and furthermore, hoping to bridge that gap of communication between her family and friends with me, it took a lot of effort for me to bring myself to learning a language which I have no grasp of at all. You may think, “Hey, you know Cantonese… so therefore, Mandarin must be very easy for you!” – this is not the case as much as you may think.
Cantonese, Mandarin and the many dialects spoken within China all share a common base, it is the written form of Chinese characters. Before my mom’s Mandarin was more fluent, she volunteered at an organization where there was a Mandarin-speaking lady. Although a lot of the communication were in English, when they could not convey what they wanted to, they wrote it out in Chinese. For me, it is harder for me to build the connection between Cantonese and Mandarin spoken forms is because I have a very minor understanding of written Chinese. It’s easy for my mom because she can put 1 and 1 together… “So this characters sounds like X in Cantonese and sounds like Y in Mandarin based on what I read.” and since I cannot read it very well, I can’t equate X with Y. As you can see, this makes learning Mandarin for me a very uphill battle.
Why did I start learning Mandarin? I began to learn it when I returned from Hong Kong this year. Bebe had expressed to me that she sometimes finds it uncomfortable that I am not able to understand her in her language. Suffice to say, although we share two common languages, Cantonese and English, I can understand her want of me to learn her language. Even I think it would make hanging out with her friends and spending time with her family much more convenient. As you may have read, I had a dislike of learning Mandarin, but sure enough, I feel that I can put forth much effort in learning this language to make future communication a lot easier. Learning languages when you’re older is not like learning it when you’re young. My brain is much slower to absorb and it takes actual effort. When I was young, I barely recall how I truly “learned” languages other than listening to people use it and it’d naturally kick-in. As I got older, this is no longer the case. Although I listen to a lot of people speak Mandarin around me, prior to me starting my lessons, it was just a bunch of words that floated in one ear and out the other.
Switching from Cantonese and learning Mandarin is quite hard because Mandarin is the “original” and “proper” way of the Chinese language. Speaking Mandarin follows the strict written form of Chinese, unlike Cantonese where we have lots of words that don’t even exist in the written form or even within the actual Chinese dictionary. In fact, a lot of my Mandarin-speaking friends have problems picking up Cantonese because we like to use “non-existent” words. Bebe has amazingly mastered Cantonese, probably from watching all those TVB dramas. My realization and pain was having to relearn many of the vocabulary I use. Something as simple as saying “house” 屋企 does not actually exist within the realm of Mandarin and written Chinese. Although those who speak Cantonese and Mandarin might be able to understand that if you were to use those characters together in Mandarin, it is definitely not the PROPER way of saying it. 房子 is the proper written and Mandarin spoken form of house. There is much slang used in Cantonese, so it has taken me a lot of reworking of my brain to deal with the “formalized” Chinese. Mandarin is easy if you have grown up properly learning written Chinese as written Chinese follows-suit with spoken Mandarin. Cantonese not only has a lot of slang, but literally, a bastardized version of Mandarin and Chinese. Mandarin is a very formal and cultivated (斯文) language and I never realized this until I began learning it. Before I started learning Mandarin, I also found it to be a very annoying language, because I suppose it sounded like screeching to me. I ended up relating that to the fact that the people I hear speaking Mandarin aren’t the more “elegant” types. Listening to a very gentle, Mandarin-speaking girls or even Taiwanese ones (although Taiwanese people have their own language-set, they share a lot of the wording with traditional Mandarin) is actually very sexy. Mandarin really is beautiful when it comes out from the right mouth… haha, especially bebe’s!
People have always complained that I speak English way too fast – most notably when I’m presenting. Teachers always used to say that I got too nervous when presenting and I’d begin to speak really fast, but then I explained to them that it is due to habit of speaking Cantonese. Chinese languages in generally are extremely fast and pronunciations can be VERY easy to miss. I never noticed I spoke very quickly in Cantonese though, but now when I listen to bebe talk on the phone with her friends, I realized that Mandarin is also a very fast-paced language… that is bad, from a learning perspective, lol. When I listen to people speak Mandarin slowly, I have time to notice the tones and decode the word. When they speak fast, I’m trying to absorb so much I only catch bits and pieces of it. Of course I need to adapt to listening to it and decoding it fast enough, but that will come with time and exposure. I always hoped that when we go out, bebe can use some easy communication with me in Mandarin, but I try to avoid it with her mainly because I don’t think she has the patience to teach me her language and all that would do is get her frustrated and then become even more negative. I’m not saying I could even hold up a complex conversation as well as I can in English or Cantonese, but that is a START.
I started using a program called Rosetta Stone. I did a lot of research into this program before getting it because it is a lot of money. It’s about $500 for the entire Mandarin Chinese box set. Yes, I am nuts, all that damn money right? Well, it’s for bebe and there’s almost nothing that I wouldn’t do for her to help our relationship. One could argue learning a new language is only for my own gain, but the reality is why ELSE would I need to learn this language otherwise? Everywhere I need to go I can get away with just English and if necessary, Cantonese. This program is incredibly long and built with much complexity – not complexity for the student, but the way they make it WORK. I’m absolutely amazed by how much I have learned. Even my mom, as rare as it may be, expressed how proud she is that I can pick up the language so quickly. Now, I’m not saying I’m a professional Mandarin speaker now, but compared to how crappy my Mandarin was before (or try, not even knowing any, lol) – it is a huge JUMP over a matter of 2 months. For the first few sections, I did relatively fast, however, I am beginning to slow down. This is not because I’m losing the drive to learn, but because the chapters are beginning to become harder, making fast chapter advancements much slower. I’d much rather take the time to perfect it and truly understand it, rather than trying to jump ahead for the sake of “getting further.”
What makes this program so amazing when there are so many language-learning programs out there right? Well, I’ve experienced it first hand myself, WOW! They use a method called “Dynamic Immersion” and while there are times when it simply tries to drill things in your head over and over again, you don’t feel it much – unlike at school. Honestly, there were times I quit a chapter and said to myself, “Damn, there’s no way I can even remember this” and then I walk away. When I think of it a day later, all of a sudden I realized I could remember it… in fact, almost crystal-clear. It makes me amazed at how well they’re able to make things stick in your head. I didn’t even know I learned that stuff when I actually DID! One of the biggest things about learning a new language is finding someone to speak it with you. Luckily, I have many friends who are native-Mandarin speakers, who help me along my way. However, I still find it tough to bring myself to have conversations with them. On the other hand, when I go out to places like T&T or even at the Chinese food place in the mall, I dare to speak it with them – however little I can do. I know that unlike a fluent-speaker, I spit out word-by-word rather than “smoothly” – but at least I should get credit for ATTEMPTING it rather bravely. The reality is that when I speak to these people, they may be laughing inside at my horrible attempt to ‘speak their language’ – but I may never see them again, so it’s easier to get over my follies. On the other hand, speaking to someone I know always seems rather embarrassing when I can’t get the right words out. I wish I was more like my dad because he told me when he came to Canada, his English still wasn’t “all the way there” and he’d often carry a dictionary around as he conversed and eventually, built up his language skills enough to be fluent. Nevertheless, he always said to me, “Sure, I’m sure those people laughed at me when I tried to speak English, but I don’t care what they think!” – if I had that kind of courage, I’d be much better off.
I think about this entire learning process, I must say, it is rather wonderful. Every time I complete each “section” just a small fraction of a chapter, I feel extremely proud. I know bebe is feeding me the willpower and the intellect to continue learning. I’ve lost motivation many times in the past, particularly with working out, lol, because I lack that DRIVE. This time, bebe is providing me with this drive, enabling my mind to stay concentrated and to focus on learning this language. Bebe is also giving me a reason to learn it, because it will help improve our communication ability with each other and also, making sure that I understand what’s happening around me when her family or friends are speaking Mandarin. Do I dare say that I’ll be able to decode everything that will happen around me? Well, maybe and maybe not. As I get more exposure to Mandarin, hopefully through her and interactions with family and friends, I’ll be able to pick up on “real” lessons through experience and immersion – rather than just through this program. Although I may only be able to communicate effectively after finishing the entire 3 sets , further immersion into her environment will truly help me to build upon what I learned and make my language learning practical.
For those who are learning Mandarin or perhaps even a different language, I will definitely vouch for Rosetta Stone being a great tool. I’m not sure whether it effectively replaces a “teacher” or “in-class lesson” – but I’ll tell you it’s definitely cheaper and less time consuming. The odd thing is this type of learning style doesn’t require “homework” – but reinforces the learning very well. Conversely, many of the “taught” courses all require in-class lessons along with homework to accomplish the same thing. According to them, you learn naturally, speak confidently and stay motivated. The way they teach the language simulates the way that children learn languages, therefore making it effortless for me to learn it. Like I said, I didn’t even realize I learned half the things I actually did. By matching apple with apple, it made the learning experience EASY. Speaking confidently, I definitely do it well in front of the computer. This programs has a state-of-the-art voice recognition system which is very important particularly for Mandarin because of the word enunciation and that tone is absolutely CRUCIAL. Sometimes I get tongue-tied saying something and it forces me to say it over and over again until I get it right! Of course when I actually speak it with people, they don’t ask me to “say it again” (unless it’s REALLY messed up) and we make do with trying to communicate with what I do know. Staying motivated is amazing how they do it. Because the program allows you to go at your own pace, repeat things, pause on things, fast forward and doesn’t hassle you – I feel very RELAXED when I’m taking these lessons. These lessons also feel very fulfilling after I complete them, I get a sense of, “Hey, I’m doing better!”
Looking at one of the words I learned, I almost know I’m going to trip on it one time and get my ass laughed off. Nevertheless, it’ll be pretty funny. Washroom is 衛生間 or pronounced wei sheng jian. Sanitary napkin is 衛生巾 or pronounced wei sheng jin. Whether or not you can properly read pinyin, as you can see, the sounding of those are EXTREMELY close, lol. Maybe to a native Mandarin speaker, they can easily separate the tones of jian and jin, but I can’t do it very well at the moment and I need to continue to ensure I hit the right tones XD Can you imagine the embarrassment if I said the wrong thing? LOL! Um.. “Excuse me, where can I find the WASHROOM?” 😆 — can you see the potential for major catastrophe there? HAH! Of course I wouldn’t mind being led to the sanitary napkins section if I was in a supermarket, but how weird would that be if I asked that in a restaurant? Oh man…
Anyways, so today, I was planning to have a lighthearted discussion with bebe. I told her I missed her while she was away and asked her if she felt the same. Obviously she couldn’t answer that, so then I kind of asked her why she still doesn’t feel like that. I was not planning on having a huge argument over it because when I asked her, it was simply of inquisitive nature and I wasn’t intending to imply she was “not being fulfilling enough” – which is what I guess she ended up perceiving it as. It was really just an innocent and perhaps grin-and-ask type question, one of those ones you never really expect an answer for. I expected a shrug and a “I just don’t feel ready yet” answer and then that would’ve been the end of that and moved on. Unfortunately, because of my stinking big mouth, it erupted into a very negative situation. The bad thing is that if I had just said nothing, it wouldn’t have caused all of this.
Sometimes I tell myself I’m so fucking stupid for saying things like that. I know that I understand myself and that I know when I am joking or just prodding at her – but sometimes she doesn’t know when I’m doing that and then she ends up taking things the wrong way. I was in no way telling her or wanting to making her feel she wasn’t “holding up her end” because she is – I can tell just from the past 3 months that she’s been trying her best to bring those feelings to surface, so there is NO blame at all that I’m placing on her. But unfortunately, by asking, I brought some negativity to the surface and that was purely my fault for bringing it up. Perhaps when I wanted just grin-on-my-face jokingness, it ended up not so well when I can’t convey tone/facial expression properly. It kind of pissed me off WHY I would even say such things… sometimes I question my own intelligence. I know that when she’s ready to take the relationship to the next step, she’ll tell me so, whether verbally or through body language, why would I be so foolish as to even ask her these things, particularly when she has problems conveying her thoughts? ARG. Can’t I just keep my mouth shut sometimes? I totally instigated this… she trailed into a conversation where it was a defining moment whether we would erupt this into something and I still stepped into it by having to make a statement about it. Why must I have an opinion on everything? I should learn what my mom taught me about just holding back sometimes. Ever since my dad passed away, my mom had always said she looked back and wonder why they got into arguments sometimes. It dawned upon her that sometimes if she had just held back her “thoughts” and not always “take a stance” on everything, there would never be a catalyst to start an argument. I know that if I just didn’t comment on what bebe said and I had to “throw my 2-cents of thought” into the conversation, none of this would have happened. I know that it doesn’t change the reality of the situation, but it DOES prevent something like this that gives her MORE leverage and negativity.
I had to completely steer clear of anymore relationship-related stuff because I didn’t want this to fester. The last thing I need is something to give us more reasons to throw at each other. Best to keep the calm and keep the peace. Unlike other couples, maybe we should not talk about the direction of our relationship, and just accept it as-is, lol. Oh, I definitely need less opinions on everything… or well at least not express them. As of the last time I saw her, things were beautiful and we were growing closer. Something happened over the past week with her friend that has really drawn this negativity out in her. I would think perhaps it was relationship or family-related that happened with her friend that seemed to throw a wrench into the crankshaft. Bebe had been so positive about our relationship, up to the last week when she was away at her friend’s and something was amidst. I need to work on embracing bebe’s comfort level with me, making sure that she doesn’t feel like she’s bad in this relationship or the failing point. NEITHER of us are a failing point and we can’t let this relationship fail. I promised bebe I’d continue to be whole I am and told her to stop feeling like she’s “not giving me enough” because I’m not asking for more, I’m asking her to be who she is until she wants to give me more. Sometimes I guess she feels like I’m pushing her or feeling like I’m implying she’s not being satisfying enough. I’m definitely NOT trying to convey that as much as sometimes I ask her things about our direction, I simply want to “know” things – but not with the intention of pushing her beyond her limits at the moment. I know that bebe’s the type of girl that when she feels she’s ready, she’ll step up to the plate – just like she did for us the first time and now is like no other – we will overcome these obstacles together and we will grow and learn to cherish each other in all the right ways to come!
Alan Tam 譚詠麟 – 小風波
Oddly enough, I was JUST listening to this song yesterday so I thought it’d be very fitting today to post it. I blame myself for instigating this argument because I could’ve avoided it all had I just not pushed her buttons. Sometimes I even find myself annoying, why do I purposely do things like that? LOL. It’s kind of like the kid who sees a puddle and still jumps into it, knowing very well that he’ll get dirty! This song is about all the “trivial issues” that couples run into but in the end, he (the singer) expresses that no matter what matters come up, that she (the song recipient) is still the one and only person to him. I really believe in the power of words, because hearing these lyrics makes me think of these stupid little things I do to bebe and although most of it are misunderstandings. Even though bebe and I may sometimes do something that the other end “doesn’t like” – I still know that I need to make myself clear that she is the one and only special girl for me and that these little matters can be overcome. I admit I am wrong to her when I am, and apologize deeply for my mistakes.
I don’t have any pre-translated English versions of this, so if you can understand it – great – if not, oh well 😛 Just skip this part, haha.
Funny tidbit that I never realized how learning Mandarin would help me… I can (partially/fully) understand the pad/tampon commercials that are in Mandarin now, LOL! 😀
Before I begin, just thought one of my friends would benefit from this picture… (in a completely humouristic fashion)… no names mentioned!:
After I said that, I just realized that probably 3-4 of my girl-friends would benefit from this… LOL! Girls these days, psh 😛 I love Carlin & Ross stuff, they always post up the funniest shit. I’m not catholic and maybe that’s why I found it amusing more than insulting.
Anyways, as I was walking into a Chinese restaurant (a real one, not chicken balls and wonton) today, I saw a couple of tables and one table particularly stood out because it was just a girl sitting there by herself. I thought it was rather weird, since eating (that particular type) of Chinese food is not meant for a “one person thing.” I proceeded to sit down and you know, being typical male obviously take a closer look. She was your average Asian girl, nothing special about her, so I looked away. She looked like a banana (for those who are not familiar, it is what we refer to Asians as being banana when they are “more white than yellow”) and spoke in perfect English to one of waitresses. I proceed to order my food since I was hungry and my friends were waiting on me to order as well.
About 10 minutes later, a couple of her friends arrived (also Asian) and began speaking to her in Mandarin. My Mandarin is extremely marginal, so I can do so much as to being able to understand a good portion of what they were saying, but I would not be able to reply (not that I would talk to them anyways) if the need arose. Oddly enough, I have not felt very attracted to listening to girls speak China-Mandarin, but love it when I hear Taiwanese-Mandarin (yes, there is a difference). Well actually, I lie, maybe there’s one girl I’ve heard speak Mandarin that was super-hot, but that’s besides the point – for the most part, I am not attracted to girls who speak China-Mandarin (which was what they were using). None of the friends that came, 1 male and 3 females particularly caught my eye either.
Now, here comes the kicker! This white girl comes walking in and then sits down with them and I thought, “Well, this is just kind of cool.” From the conversation, it turns out that they’re probably students of our nearby colleges or university and they began practicing their languages with each other. The white girl was talk-ing-rea-lly-sl-ow-ly-to-the-chi-nese-boy in English and the Asian girls were teaching the white girl how to order food, ask for napkins, words on the menu (I digress: The white girl did a fantastic job of pronunciation… either she’s into studying the Chinese language or she’s damn good at it!) and stuff like that. For the first time since I arrived at the restaurant, I have not heard the girl (one that was there when I first came in) speak anything except for English and Mandarin. As she called one of the other waitresses over (who happens to be her friend which I found out later), she starts speaking in Cantonese to her and immediately my head just snaps and was like “Wow, that’s so F’ing HOT!” lol.. (oh great, I’m starting to talk to Poh Ching now… ahh ddiiiuuu)
So then I began to take note of the fact that languages are SEXY. Now, this isn’t the first time something like this has happened, but as it happens more frequently, I begin to take-note of things like this. Case in point, I remember the first time I met my dream girl, it was pretty ecstatic. It had been almost 4 months ago and when I met her at her house for the first time, we spoke English. Even though I knew she was capable of speaking Cantonese, all the previous girls I’ve dated (even if they could speak Chinese, they didn’t… thus all the “banana” jokes) didn’t so I wasn’t sure how comfortable she’d be with that… so.. I resorted to speaking English with her. She was super-duper shy (HOLY cute should I mention?) when she answered the door (so F’ing adorable!!) and she let me in. We sat in her room, talked for a bit and then I was trying to “test the waters” to see if she was comfortable with speaking Cantonese (hey, it is a hot language, what can I say? LOL). I still remember the exact first Cantonese phrase she said to me, even to this day! My heart completely melted (not that she didn’t make me go crazy over her already :P) at that moment. If it wasn’t because I didn’t want to make an ass of myself, I would’ve had a nosebleed! (Translation: “Nosebleed” is a common description in the Chinese language indicating that a guy finds a girl extremely attractive)
I know that it is quite common for people to find accents attractive – in fact, I was telling Poh Ching about an Taiwanese-Australian girl I know and how amazingly cute her accent is when she speaks English (but not Mandarin… somehow it skews the sound – now my dream girl on the other hand, she is super sexy when she speaks Mandarin, lol). Of course she always has to be the opposite of me and hates Australian accent on guys, lol. To me, hearing a girl speak Cantonese even when she’s only has moderate-physical attractive qualities immediately becomes amplified beauty. Languages are beautiful and that’s why there are people who know many or strive to study/learn many different languages. To me, hearing my dream girl say those first words to me in her super-duper cute voice totally made her drop-dead gorgeous and my heart turned to mush! I wanted to grab her and squeeze her suuuppeer tight and tell her I want her forever and ever! It is amazing how powerful languages can be!
Maybe this is the case for many people that hearing someone speak a common language is something that causes a very positive reaction. However there are some languages I don’t understand but find that when spoken is like “music to my ears.” One of the girls I met at college one time (was not in a relationship with her) she would constantly speak Taiwanese-Mandarin to me and would just assume I could pick up on every word she said (which I can’t) and the odd time she’d drop a word of (broken) Cantonese in there to help me understand. Her speaking TW-M was attractive or perhaps it was also compounded by her voice. On the other hand, hearing China-Mandarin is a really “rough” language, it sounds shrilling like a girl is being hit and she’s screaming at the top of her lungs. It is worse because many China girls have raspy voices, so now you have a “rough language from a rough voice.” TW-M is very smooth and calm language, so when a girl speaks it, it is with grace and fluidity, making it sound very nice. I remember hearing my dream girl yell (even though she was yelling at her brother to go eat), I thought I was going to pass out at how beautiful her voice was when speaking Mandarin (ok, well she’s completely beautiful in every-way-shape-and-form so maybe that’s a biased comparison, haha). Alas, I live in an area that are not populated by a lot of Asians, so to be able to hear someone speak your language definitely has attractive qualities!3TEB9CX