Category Archives: Mandarin

Mandarin progress


I had a bit of a breakthrough¬†today in my Chinese class. When I started lessons a year ago I took notes, feverishly too I might add. When I started the second level my teacher started writing things down. It saved time and she didn’t write as many things as I did. I have noticed in the last few classes that the writing has been less and less. Today? Nothing was written! I still have to think about every word that comes out of my mouth and sometimes my head hurts (I can only imagine how E’s head must feel having to listen to me) but I’m pleased that I’ve progressed to the point that nothing is written. As a visual learner that makes me panic a bit but it’s the Berlitz way. Hmmm…it only took me a year to reach that point. Now that I think about it perhaps it’s not something I should be bragging about. ūüėČ

On the down side, in my Mandarin class today my teacher told me that some of my characters look like a 3-year-old wrote them. We had quite a laugh about that. It’s true. Learning to write in Chinese transported me to another minefield. If I make a stroke wrong it looks like a completely different word. I now walk in 2 minefields: spoken language minefield and written language minefield. I get blown up on a regular basis. ūüė¶

I’m so glad that E was able to tease me about it. Our relationship has come a long way and I adore her. We laugh a lot and I love that I can make her laugh in Chinese. I don’t just mean with my mistakes either (although that provides plenty of unintentional entertainment). I get her to laugh by saying something funny. She¬†understands me. She actually squeezed my shoulders today. I know that seems trivial but this is a nation of non-huggers. ūüôā

9PM – 82¬į

A long sentence in Mandarin!


I had a major Mandarin success this morning. I was telling Ben that I needed to buy a new bathroom scale.¬† We have been without one for about 6 weeks. We were discussing where to get one and the place where¬†he suggested is where I buy my food: it’s kind of like a Super Wal-Mart but it’s not. He said that if I didn’t need other¬†things there he would take me to another place that was closer. So I said:

“I don’t need to buy a lot of food because we’re going to Hong Kong this weekend.”

This was all in Chinese. I hadn’t warned him like I usually do¬†so I watched his face the whole time I said it. ¬†He grinned and then there was silence. I thought that surely there was a correction or two or three.¬†After a few seconds of waiting (he was so¬†messing¬†with my head ;-)) I finally asked if that was right. He nodded enthusiastically and told¬†me he understood just¬†fine. ¬†

It was a definite improvement from the half sentences, common phrases, and Chinglish sentences that I spew.

3PM – 81¬į

Picture day at school


To Anders, Kiersten, Andrew, and Steven: Please don’t take offense to how you look! You know I can’t draw to save my life.

The slideshow¬†is a result of today’s Mandarin class. I have finished the first unit and will have a big test coming up! I feel like I’m back in elementary school. We are reviewing and today’s¬†class centered on family. E incorporated a lot of things I’ve learned into this one lesson with drawings of my family. She’s a fantastic teacher and makes it fun when she can. I have never professed to be a good singer or artist. NEVER! I would definitely be the last person chosen for Pictionary and these pictures prove it. The things that are drawn in red were done by E. (you can tell because they look better than anything I drew) I had to give her directions on what to draw and where. I think it turned out to be a nice family portrait!

I hope to have some great posts next week. Anders and I leave tomorrow for our first Chinese road trip! We are going to Yangshuo¬†which is about 260 miles from GZ and about a 6 hour drive.¬† Can’t tell you happy Anders is that for once he won’t be doing any driving on a long trip. New experience for him. I keep teasing Ben that I’m going to drive when he gets tired. ūüėČ We are going with 1/2 of Anders’ team. There will be 15 of us going in our van and 2 other cars. We are scheduled to take a bike tour, boat cruise (by boat I mean a long, wooden dugout), and see an outdoor Chinese opera which has the Yulong River as the backdrop. I just hope the weather cooperates because it’s supposed to rain!¬†I can’t wait to see what this weekend brings.

3PM – 58¬į

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I asked Ben to kiss me!


What did he do? He laughed! Quite hard actually. What did I do? I laughed. Quite hard as well but I also turned beet red.

As I’ve said before, Mandarin is a mine-field. One wrong tone and you end up asking your driver to kiss you instead of asking a question. The word that caused the trouble is wen. It has 7 different meanings but only 4 pronunciations. Yeah, sometimes you pronounce a word with the same tone and the only way to know the meaning is by context! I know there are some words like that in English but it’s a lot worse in Mandarin.

wńõn=kiss. This tone is the third tone. Here’s how you say it. The ‘e’ is pronounced like the ‘e’ in her. The third tone starts low, then falls lower before rising again to a point slightly higher that the starting point; louder at the beginning and end than in the middle; slightly longer than the first tone. (This is the way the Berlitz dictionary describes how to pronounce the third tone. It’s easier than it seems but come on, who the heck can understand that!)

w√®n=ask. This is the fourth tone. It starts high then drops sharply in pitch and volume; like saying ‘right’ when agreeing to an instruction.¬†It’s an easy tone and I should not have failed.

In class I was learning in-depth shopping. Part of my homework was to ask Ben where he bought something. I chose to ask him where he bought his pants. I always prepare him when I’m going to speak an entire sentence in Chinese by saying, “OK, I’m going to try this whole thing in Chinese.” or “OK, are you ready?” And whenever I do he gets the funniest, most anticipatory¬†grin on his face while simultaneously raising his eyebrow and leaning over to listen. It’s very endearing.

Me¬†(in Mandarin): “I have homework.” And he smiled in anticipation.

Me (in Mandarin and what I meant to say): “I have to ask you where you bought something.”¬†

Me (in Mandarin and what I actually said):¬†“I have to kiss you…”

Didn’t get any further than that because¬†he¬†started to laugh. I knew¬†instantly why he was laughing. I’ve made the same mistake with E¬†during my lesson so I practiced¬†what I was going to say to Ben. Practiced and still managed to do exactly what I was trying to avoid.¬†After we collected ourselves:

Ben: “This¬†word is some trouble.” I hear that¬† from him frequently and not just about speaking Chinese.

Me: “I know. I practiced and still got it wrong.”

Ben: “It OK, it OK. Chinese people know it hard for waiguoren (foreigners) to speak Chinese. It OK.”

Me: “I am so glad I don’t look like a local because they know not to expect much.”¬†

He nodded a little too enthusiastically if you ask me. ūüėČ This led to a discussion about how sometimes it’s¬†not so bad to stand out.

I told Anders about it this morning. He thought it was hilarious. So what did¬†the cheeky monkey¬†do? He got in the car this morning and asked Ben to kiss him! I had called him about 5 minutes after he left to remind him of something. When Anders¬†answered he was laughing¬†and I could hear Ben too! I asked him what was so funny and he told me that he asked Ben to kiss him and then they both started guffawing again. Guess he’s jealous. I’m just not sure if it’s Ben or me that he’s jealous of. ūüôā

5:30PM – 64¬į

I forgot a title so I’m going with “I forgot a title”


The dining room is the only¬†room where the main piece of furniture is not ours. I gave away our very traditional and very large dining table, chairs, buffet, and china cupboard. The fact that I even used the word china cupboard is an indicator of how traditional it was. I hope to buy a table and chairs while I’m here. I already have them chosen, the problem is that they’re too big for the space. I’ll work it out, no worries.

The main problem was where to keep my ceramics that I collected in Europe and which I use daily, and where to put my cookbooks. I really kept the number of cookbooks that I brought to a minimum. Even so, there sure isn’t room for them in the kitchen! So, it’s Target cubes to the rescue again. It looks OK but I would not want the dining room in its current state to be my forever dining room.

I do like our living room. It’s all about the view. It’s also a very large space which is good. We don’t have a family room, den, and living room like so many homes in the US. I’m not complaining either. Our lifestyle is such that we don’t need all those rooms anymore so it’s good to have one large space. The entertainment unit belongs to the apartment complex and again, I hope to replace it. I bought a coffee table a few weeks ago and I love it. It’s a 100 year-old horse feeding trough from northern China that’s been converted into a usable pice of furniture with the addition of an old door. It looks great but makes the modern (and ugly) TV table stand out even more. Huge speakers are a pet peeve of mine too and they must go. Sorry Anders, you can’t have a satellite dish and gigantic speakers too.

We found an amazing store a few weeks ago that specializes in Chinese antiques and they also make their own furniture It’s quite possibly¬†my favorite store in the whole world and I’ve been avoiding it since we bought a few things. I would gladly furnish my whole apartment with items from this store and Anders is in trouble. As I was looking at the photos and trying to decide which ones to post, I saw the apartment in a different way. I see that this needs to go and wouldn’t the buffet we saw at Phinn’s¬†look great in its place?! And oh my, those Target cubes really aren’t gonna cut it when I get that dining table. The best part (for me at least) is that the owner of the store said that as it gets closer to the time when we get kicked out of China, not her words, we can buy things and they’ll store¬†them for us until it’s time to get packed up. I love this woman!!! She explained to us that antiques are not easy to find because the Chinese just chuck stuff out and want all new. Her prices are surprisingly cheap, by US standards anyway. I not only like her merchandise but can afford it! I’m just not sure I can afford EVERYTHING I want.

I¬†love the terrace. It’s tiny and there is barely enough room for the few things we do have but I sit out there as much as possible. Yesterday I sat on the terrace and studied Mandarin for 5 hours! I’m glad it’s finally warm enough to do that. The only problem was that it was so humid that my papers were damp after the 1st hour. I turned down other apartments that didn’t have any outdoor space and am so happy that I did.

This has nothing to do with the apartment but I just had to say that I thought my head was going to explode in Mandarin class today. Not only was I speaking Chinese but my teacher had me doing math! Doing math in my head has never been easy (gotta see those numbers written) but to have to do it in Chinese added an element that I do not want to repeat. Also, today at the wet market I understood every time someone told me how much my fruit and veg cost! That’s a first. There has always been at least one time (if I’m lucky it’s only one) that I just give them a 10 because I have no idea what they said. But today man, I was on and was able to either give exact amounts or knew what change I was getting. That is progress.

5PM – 76¬į

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I may take up golf instead


Mandarin Chinese¬†(MC from here on out)¬†is the dialect that was chosen to be the “common” language of the country. It is spoken by more people than any other language in the world, remember that tidbit for Trivial Pursuit. There are 4 tones in Mandarin, 5 if you count the one that is neutral. English is a flat language. We use voice inflection for dramatic effect or to convey emotion. Mandarin uses it to convey meaning and almost every word has at least one tone, except for the few that use the neutral tone. ¬†The Chinese language uses tones because¬†it has fewer syllables and more homophonic words (words¬†that are pronounced the same) than other languages. Chinese has 400 syllables and English has 12,000!

Disclaimer: none of the¬† MC words in this post will have tones marked above the corresponding letter because the wingdings on this site only have 2 of them for MC. I don’t have the time to figure it out in Word and then copy, cut, or paste. Sorry. Just imagine little marks above the vowels. They can be whatever you want them to be, just make sure there is a different mark above every “a” or “u” in the MC words in the next paragraph.

Some common words to practice tones on are: ma, ma, ma, ma. Depending on the tone they mean: mother, hemp, horse, or to scold. Then there is zhu, zhu, zhu, zhu with the assigned meanings of pig¬†OR pearl, bamboo, master, or to reside. I mentioned a¬†tongue twister E gave me¬†a few weeks ago. The only difference in the 3 words for the whole thing is whether I raise or lower my voice and whether my tongue is touching the back of my teeth or the roof of my mouth. I’m a visual learner so not only do I have to see the spelling of the word but I also have to see the correct tone for the correct vowel, and then say that tone correctly. (It’s like practicing your golf swing: head down, shoulders back but relaxed, feet hip-width apart, knees slightly bent, elbows straight but not locked, roll your hips, and DON’T LIFT YOUR HEAD¬†KAREN!) Can you say uphill battle? No tones needed, just say it with an exasperated inflection.

It’s very strange to be home all day by oneself and talk out loud. Try it, it’s odd. I say things in my head but then remember that I have to say them out loud. The other funny thing is that for the most part I’m just saying individual words. No sentences,¬† a word just pops out every now and then.¬† Door, office, wallet, cup,¬†clock, beer, wine. See where this is headed? ¬†¬†I put¬† post-its on things in the house. ¬†I have a list of drinks on the refrigerator and “measure words”.¬† The Chinese love their measure words even though they’re not measuring anything!¬† When a certain driver helped me with my groceries this week he laughed and I mean laughed. The more stickers he saw the harder he laughed. To the point that when he went to the door to leave and saw the post-it for that¬†word he almost tripped walking out the door. I am not exaggerating for comedic effect.

Wow, I just realized that this is not a very positive post. Talk about a defeatist attitude! I’ll never learn with that attitude. I put way too much pressure on myself and for various reasons want to be speaking like a local after 3 months. Anders just doesn’t have the time for lessons here.¬†Shampoo and conditioner¬†don’t make themselves you know! He’s depending on me to get us around GZ and China, we’ll end up in Kazakhstan. ¬†I want to make E proud, she’s such a great teacher. I want to impress friends and family when they come to visit ūüėČ Ben thinks I can do this. And I don’t want anyone to think I’m not smart enough or horrors, too old to learn!

Yesterday as we pulled up to the building for my lesson I told Ben that is was time for me to start thinking in Chinese. We laughed and as I got out of the car he said, ” Just change your SIM card.” Oh how I wish it was that easy and wouldn’t that be cool?!?!? Can someone please work on that and make it a reality in the next 6 months?

2PM – 79¬į (This is for you neighbor, you know who you are.)

Can’t I just speak French?


As I was out and about with a friend we¬†were talking about where she might like to go for her next assignment. She said she would like to go where she can use her Mandarin skills. She’s been here for over a year and I give her credit. She has worked¬† hard to learn Mandarin which is one of the¬†most difficult ¬†languages¬†and doesn’t want to waste the knowledge nor does she want to start over again with a new one.¬†

This¬†got me to thinking about learning languages and the French that I learned in Switzerland. I took Berlitz lessons and when they ran out I had a private tutor. My family will tell you that I never gave myself enough credit for how much I spoke. ¬†Based on my experiences in the month that I’ve been here I realize just how much I knew. EVERYTHING I want to say in Chinese I can easily say in French.¬† Having been in the States for the last three years, I thought I forgot a good portion of my French. Faced with learning another language, I realize it’s not true.¬† When I don’t hear English, whatever the language may be, French is what gets “turned on” in my brain. Hopefully in a year the Mandarin light bulb will turn on.

My¬† lessons are coming along well and I adore my teacher. She is the first Berlitz teacher that actually teaches to my¬†style of learning. She has me figured out and knows how to get the best out of me. I gave up mahjong because if I change my lesson time I have to change teachers. E, my teacher, gave me a Mandarin tongue twister today! I told her about a problem I had at the market last week with the numbers 4 and 10. She said it’s a common problem and that there was a TT for it. I’m so excited because I am the queen of tongue twisters! Granted this is a Mandarin one but I’ll master it. Ask me the next time you see me!

I’m¬†also sitting up front with Ben.¬†¬†He doesn’t have to keep turning back to talk and when he speaks Chinese I¬†can see his mouth. The differences in tones can be subtle and seeing him speak helps a lot.¬† I showed him the 4, 10, 14, 40 TT. ¬†I said it for him, he laughed,¬†and we sat at¬†a red light and he helped me.

So I’m going to give lessons everything I’ve got, use Mandarin as often as possible,¬†and not¬†be shy about unleashing it on the public. If¬† I want to get the most out of my time here I need to throw caution (and ego) to the wind and just dive in.

I started this¬†post before I left for my lesson. Now that I’m back and my head hurts…can’t I just speak French? ūüôā

4PM – 89¬į