Speaking

By Bryan • china, nanjing, personal • 14 Nov 2004

I was walking to campus this afternoon to plan out my lessons for tomorrow and this old dude on a bicycle rode up beside me and started chattin’ away to me in Chinese.

Like I’ve mentioned earlier, I really don’t speak any Mandarin, and it is very hard to learn when a) you are not taking lessons b) you are an ENGLISH teacher c) you speak English all the time d) the people you know all speak English. If you hang out here long enough, you’ll probably pick up some phrases, but what I really want to learn is the structure (ie. articles, pronouns, verbs) so I can construct my own sentences…and you can’t really do that without some sort of language instruction…or at least a book…and I don’t have that either. All I’ve got is a phrase book, and it’s useless. I’m told that I’ll be able to sit in on next semesters Mandarin classes for free, but that won’t be for at least another month. My director is also a Chinese language teacher, and she’s taught me a few grammar points, but she really doesn’t have enough time to get into anything serious.

I think that in Nanjing, because of the high foreign student population, the locals just assume that if you are young then you must be a student studying Chinese at one of the universities.

Anyways, this guy just kept talking to me even after I had thought I had made it abundantly clear through my use of English and hand gestures that I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about. So I decided to speak my one phrase that I know “Wo bu mingbai”…I don’t understand. It appears like a very easy phrase to speak, but in fact the “o” in “Wo” has an up-down intonation which is very difficult to pronounce correctly. I can’t even say “I” in Chinese. The guy finally left, probably out of frustration…as I don’t think my Mandarin really helped anyone involved.

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