Sunday, 16 June 2013

Learning Chinese in 90 days - Day 1: .As the Frog Said to the Beijing Duck...

I'm learning Mandarin.

You heard it here first (well, technically speaking my Facebook friends read it first on Facebook but you're getting the context).

It all started with lunch at the Albion Caff with a long lost Anglo-Scottish friend from the Lycee who's spent the last 20 years in China. What can I say? Blame it on the pork and apple sauce (him) orthe devilled kidneys (guess who), or on my drinking a shot of espresso for the first time in a couple of months, but I decided then and there that I was going to learn to speak Mandarin, like now, right away, tout de suite, immediatamente.

This was on Friday.

I know what you're thinking. I do.
'She should stay off the coffee or stick to decaf.'
'That's a bit (insert appropriate word) impulsive, random, mad.'

So? Remember I'm the one who went in for a couple of voice lessons and quit my job to go drama school...

This my friends, in comparison, on the scale of life altering decisions, is what the English like to call 'a doddle'.

Besides, it's not that random. Or impulsive. It's been bubbling away in the back (and sides) of my mind since my first visit to China in 2010. Allow me to share a favourite fantasy of mine: I'd like to go and live in Shanghai some day. More specifically I'd like to live in a flat in the French Concession district. And in order for the fantasy to be complete, I'll need to communicate without having to rely on English, or miming, or a tourist guide with pictures of various foods and toiletries essentials. I want to blend in (ha ha ha - well it is still called the French Concession) as much as possible.

Before I lose you completely, for the rational types amongst you, there is another more prosaic reason: let's face it, some 1.5 billion human beings speak Mandarin so English as the Lingua Franca is in danger of becoming a bit passé (that's right you Anglophiles, French used to be the Lingua Franca and look where that got them, and before that it was Latin. And who speaks Latin? Even my friend TP elected to learn Greek (and Urdu I believe), not Latin. Plus, I like a challenge.

So what's the plan? To learn the basics so that I can communicate verbally. No reading or writing. Not yet. Leave that and the acquisition of an extended vocabulary (and possibly a Masters in Chinese Literature - but let's not get ahead of ourselves) for later. For now, we're talking 90 lessons in 90 days. That's right. There's no homework, no writing and no reading. Just one lesson a day, everyday, for 90 days. You learn through a particular frequency of repetition, building over time and you learn by ear (key for a language that has four tones for every sound, leading to at least 4 different meanings).

To sweeten the deal, the first lesson is free! Hurray. I do love a bargain.

So day 1 was Saturday. (I did try the free lesson on Friday evening but I was too excited - from the caffeine - and couldn't concentrate properly). It was a bit overwhelming. I couldn't remember half the words. But the lovely male voice (I think he's a relation of the voice on my sleeping app) soothed me, recommended I take a chill pill (not in so many words but that's definitely what he was trying to convey) and explained that all the words would be revisited in lesson 2.

I decided to trust the voice. Firstly because his Mandarin is pretty good. Secondly because I really want it to work. Thirdly, because the course doesn't come cheap.

So I'm going to keep ya'll posted via this wee blog here and see if I can sort my Mandarin Ducks from my China Plates.

Until tomorrow...

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