Language learning should be practical, enjoyable and accessible in order to foster any real development toward the path to fluency.
Am I truly on that path to “fluency”? That’s a little too early to say. What I can say is that, in this present moment, I am certainly not anywhere close to even reaching a conversational level in Mandarin Chinese.
My main problem is one I’ve mentioned before. I keep memorizing (useful) vocabulary words and short phrases, which I thought was a good thing. I usually study my Chinese book when I’m out and about – at a coffee shop, on the metro, on a lunch break at work. Because I’m away from a computer at those times, I often haven’t been listening to the book’s corresponding audio files.
So my pronunciation is still way off. It’s those damn four tones, which I still have a terrible time distinguishing between when I’m listening to Chinese.
Yesterday I reached a fairly obvious conclusion: I need a Chinese teacher.
I thought I would be able to get by using online resources, my Chinese book and through the powers of brute memorization and repetition. But what’s the point of spending so much time on something if the end result (my pronunciation – basically, my powers of communication) isn’t even comprehensible?
That may be why, when recently given a chā (fork) at a local restaurant, the fúwùyuán (waiter) did not immediately understand when I asked for kuàizi (chopsticks) instead.
My pronunciation of basic food words (coincidentally, the subject of week 2, lesson 3) is decent because they happen to be the words I’ve used the most in practice. I can also decipher these words when people speak to me, as well. That may not seem like a big deal, but Chinese speakers tend speak incredibly quickly, and often with a dialect that varies from standard Mandarin.
Using words like shuǐguǒ (fruit – the translation is closer to “water fruit”), shūcài (vegetables), yú (fish), ròu (meat), tang (soup) and, of course the staples miàntiáo and mǐfàn (noodles and rice) is almost becoming second nature.
I’m fairly confident that my pronunciation of chǎo (fried) is correct. This, by the way, is one word Chinese food-eating foreigners may already be familiar with. Do you happen to enjoy eating Chow Mein, the stir fried noodle dish ubiquitous to Chinese restaurants?
Chow Mein (stirfried noodles)= chǎo miàn in pinyin. The pronunication of “chow” and “chao” in this context is almost the same.
So I’ve known how to ask for chǎo miàn or chǎo mǐfàn for quite some time. However, this week I’ve learned the words zhǔ (boiled) and zhēng (steamed), which will be useful for inquiring about where I can find my preferred style of dumpling (my favorite’s are Zhēng but in Shanghai locals seem to favor chǎo ).
I’m not a vegetarian, but if I decide to make that leap I can now tell the world that Wǒ shì yīgè sùshízhě (I am a vegetarian). And yes, the main reason I decided to add that world to my arsenal is definitely because it has “sushi” in it.