Thursday, October 13, 2011

Lessons in Chinese

Learning Chinese makes me feel like I am in college all over again (actually on some occasions I have felt like I was in kindergarten again). In my usual college way, I should be studying right now, but instead I am blogging (in college it wasn't blogging, but there were all sorts of other things that easily distracted me from studying). But I figured maybe if I blog about Chinese, then it's kind of like studying...kind of...

Many of you have asked me how Chinese (hanyu) is going. My usual answer is "it's going." And it is. Somedays I feel great hope of learning this very difficult language. Other days I feel as though I could just be content talking to 2, 3, and 4 years olds because they don't care what language I speak and hugs and kisses are universal. I think I put really high expectations on myself and get really discouraged when I don't understand something. I guess I thought I would get here and start picking up on things overnight.

I have been told by several people who have learned to speak Chinese that it takes at least 6 months (yue) before you are really able to converse. I get little glimpses of hope here and there as I am able to pick up on words every now and then; but over all, I am very limited in my ability to communicate. The sweet ayis here really try and I can tell they want to talk with me and ask questions. I am sure they must get quite a kick at my completely blank stares. Then I hear them tell each other "ting bu dong" which means "she doesn't understand..." and then they chuckle.

 I have however learned to answer four important phrases over the past two months:

Q: Ni jiao shen me ming zi? (What is your name?)
A: Jiao Rebecca (I am called Rebecca)

Q: Ni duo da le? (How old are you?)
A: Wo er shi jiu sui (essentially translated: I 29 age)

Q: Ni nan pengyou ma? (Do you have a boyfriend?)
A: Bu (which means no, but today I figured out I should be saying meio, which also means no...)

Q: Ni chi fan le ma? (Have you eaten?)
A: My answer has been bu (no) or dui (yes), but I was corrected by my Chinese teacher in that you don't use bu/dui when answering this question, but instead there is a phrase you use if you have eaten and another if you haven't. I have not mastered those yet, so I just nod my head yes or no hoping it's universal.

Today I laughed as some of the ayis were asking me if I had a boyfriend (which apparently seems to be of universal concern). When I told them I did not, they asked how old I was. When I answered their question, their response essentially was "you're 29 and you don't have a boyfriend?" Thankfully here I can still plead ignorance and go back to playing with the kids (hai zi).

The other day (tian) an ayi was asking me a question and while I thought I was telling her "I don't know (the answer to your question)" (wo bu zhi dao) I figured out a few minutes (fen) later that I was actually saying "I can't" (wo bu keyi). She looked at me funny and then went back to what she was doing. Once I figured out what I had said, I wanted to explain my mistake, but couldn't. I felt slightly moronic, but it is what it is. I have figured out that for the next few months (yue), I just need to resign myself to the fact that there are going to be many, many, many times when I am just going to feel like a moron, and need to just be okay with it. Maybe it's a much needed lesson in humilty.

But on a really positive note, I was really encouraged by this comment the other day. I was telling our Chinese teacher that I would like to be able to converse (liao tianr) with the ayis, but just can't yet and when I try to explain that I don't understand (wo ting bu dong), they ask another question, followed by another, until they realize that I really don't understand. Her response was that the ayis really like to talk to Americans (mei guo ren) because Americans are always happy (gaoxing). My initial thought was "no they really all aren't" but then it hit me that for the most part their interaction with Americans has been here at Maria's, and most of those people have been believers. Not to say that non-believers are not happy, or that all believers are, but I think that comment spoke a lot about His people being salt and light among those who may have never heard of the Hope that lives in us who believe.

So, there it is...that's how Chinese is going :) Incase you are wondering what the words in parenthesis are for, those are the words I am familiar with and thought that in attempts to justify blogging instead of studying, that I would at least plug in Chinese words here and there to help me learn/review them.

By the way, we are just learning pinyin right now. We have not even scratched the surface with Chinese characters yet. I am sure that will be for another blog. A long time from now.

P.S. You all will not be shocked to know that coffee was one of the first Chinese words I learned. Thankfully it's just "kafei"...easy enough :)


  1. you need to check out Chris Wheeler's "Ting bu dong"'s on drivehq under Funny Videos from might already be downloaded. or I can send you the youtube if you're on a proxy. hilarious.

  2. You will get the Chinese soon and will be speaking it easily... I know it's easy to get discouraged and you sound like the way I feel a lot of times. I'm praying for you! Funny about the boyfriend thing!

  3. so cool, becky! what a difficult language to master. just seeing what you've learned so far seems pretty incredible!