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Learning Mandarin - My New Year's Resolution

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I was totally unsure of where to post this, so @DonRocks wave your wand and move it to whichever forum it  suits. 

So every year I set a goal, or a resolutions of sorts. I have always been fascinated by linguistics, and have wanted to learn a new language  since college. For 2019, I have declared that I want to learn Mandarin. I love going to places like Mark's Duck House, and just listening to rounds of guests talk. I have no idea what they are saying, but am fascinated by the emotion as to which they connect. For all  I know they could be complaining about how their children drive them to drink, or chatting about the suspect neighbor who moved into the rickety house down the street. I am a voyeur into peoples lives through wanting to learn about their cultures. So any suggestions or  resources of  best to navigate how to learn Mandarin are greatly welcome!

Never stop learning,

kat

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Beware that the people at Mark's Duck House may or may not be speaking Mandarin. I learned Mandarin in college, during which I studied in China for 6 months. (This was 25 years ago and sadly I haven't kept my Mandarin up, but I hope it's still knocking around in my brain somewhere.) After college I was excited to use my Mandarin when I got a job at a social service agency in Boston's Chinatown ... at which point I learned that the vast majority of the agency's clients spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin. Some of them could get by in Mandarin, but most of them felt a lot more comfortable in Cantonese (which was almost unintelligible to me as a Mandarin speaker). But maybe there are more Mandarin speakers in the DC area now than there were in the Boston area in 1995-96.

Learning Mandarin isn't difficult in every way: the grammar is actually pretty easy (no verb conjugation!). Of course, unlike Romance languages, there are very few cognates with English, and the tones can be difficult for someone not used to speaking a tonal language. And I don't need to tell you about learning the characters. 🙂 When I got back from China I could look at a newspaper article in Chinese and at least get the gist of the article even if I didn't know all the characters. Now I can barely read the menu in a Chinese restaurant. 😞

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1 hour ago, dracisk said:

Beware that the people at Mark's Duck House may or may not be speaking Mandarin. I learned Mandarin in college, during which I studied in China for 6 months. (This was 25 years ago and sadly I haven't kept my Mandarin up, but I hope it's still knocking around in my brain somewhere.) After college I was excited to use my Mandarin when I got a job at a social service agency in Boston's Chinatown ... at which point I learned that the vast majority of the agency's clients spoke Cantonese, not Mandarin. Some of them could get by in Mandarin, but most of them felt a lot more comfortable in Cantonese (which was almost unintelligible to me as a Mandarin speaker). But maybe there are more Mandarin speakers in the DC area now than there were in the Boston area in 1995-96.

Learning Mandarin isn't difficult in every way: the grammar is actually pretty easy (no verb conjugation!). Of course, unlike Romance languages, there are very few cognates with English, and the tones can be difficult for someone not used to speaking a tonal language. And I don't need to tell you about learning the characters. 🙂 When I got back from China I could look at a newspaper article in Chinese and at least get the gist of the article even if I didn't know all the characters. Now I can barely read the menu in a Chinese restaurant. 😞

So do you recommend I learn Cantonese instead? I would like to be able to communicate with the business men that visit my place of employment. We recently opened a plant in Shanghai.  I kind wanna blow my Boss's mind by learning a new language, plus this gives me leverage in my job. A feather in my cap will do wonders when it comes time for year end evaluations, but my agenda in learning a new language is more so to learn about their culture and traditions. 

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I'm guessing the business people probably speak Mandarin. The people I came in contact with in Boston weren't highly educated as a general rule. I think anyone in China who's been to school, particularly through college, speaks Mandarin (in addition maybe to their local dialect).

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Just now, dracisk said:

I'm guessing the business people probably speak Mandarin. The people I came in contact with in Boston weren't highly educated as a general rule. I think anyone in China who's been to school, particularly through college, speaks Mandarin (in addition maybe to their local dialect).

I am an overachiever. I will attempt both Mandarin & Cantonese. 

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On 12/14/2018 at 1:41 PM, curiouskitkatt said:

I am an overachiever. I will attempt both Mandarin & Cantonese. 

I wish you luck! Mandarin has four tones and Cantonese has six or nine, depending on who you ask.

On 12/14/2018 at 1:34 PM, curiouskitkatt said:

We recently opened a plant in Shanghai.

Also, Cantonese isn't the dialect of Shanghai. There's a separate Shanghainese dialect. Again, the people who are coming to the U.S. on business probably speak Mandarin. The people working in the plant in Shanghai may not speak Mandarin so well (just guessing).

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Mandarin is the official language...most Chinese people should be able to converse in Mandarin.  I haven't been to any proper Chinese restaurants where the staff don't speak a lick of Mandarin - even in Hong Kong I can get by with Mandarin.  Better to focus on Mandarin than attempt Mandarin and Cantonese.

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Everyone in Shanghai under the age of 70 speaks excellent Mandarin.  I suspect that everyone under 50 in Cantonese areas speaks excellent Mandarin.  The only times where I have encounter poor spoken Mandarin is in "Mandarin" speaking areas in Western China.

Learning Mandarin as an adult is very hard.  In my experience, I probably only met 2 people who mastered it, a college professor who specializes in Chinese history and married a Chinese woman, and a law partner who specializes in international trade law working primarily with Taiwanese clients.

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Would people who came from the countryside to work in a factory in Shanghai or some other major city — people who may not have had a lot of formal education — speak Mandarin? I’m under the impression that people who live in areas where Mandarin isn’t the local dialect learn Mandarin in school, but my info could certainly be outdated.

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14 hours ago, curiouskitkatt said:

I was totally unsure of where to post this, so @DonRocks wave your wand and move it to whichever forum it  suits. 

So every year I set a goal, or a resolutions of sorts. I have always been fascinated by linguistics, and have wanted to learn a new language  since college. For 2019, I have declared that I want to learn Mandarin. I love going to places like Mark's Duck House, and just listening to rounds of guests talk. I have no idea what they are saying, but am fascinated by the emotion as to which they connect. For all  I know they could be complaining about how their children drive them to drink, or chatting about the suspect neighbor who moved into the rickety house down the street. I am a voyeur into peoples lives through wanting to learn about their cultures. So any suggestions or  resources of  best to navigate how to learn Mandarin are greatly welcome!

Never stop learning,

kat

I got into a discussion once with ol_ironstomach about the virtues of learning a little Mandarin - I think it's worth it; he doesn't. It's somewhere here on this website, but I can't remember where.

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It's possible that they speak somewhat heavily accented Mandarin, but almost certainly good enough to understand and be understood by others.  Even if their education is comparatively lackluster, they would have received 6 to 9 years of Pinyin based Chinese education.  After that, getting by in the urban areas where they work and live most of the year is a good incentive to improve their everyday speaking skills.   They are standardizing the Mandarin they learnt during primary school and that's much easier than learning Mandarin from scratch as adults.  Also, keep in mind that majority of TV is in standard Mandarin, so they are getting regular exposure almost anywhere they live.

The only time you are likely to encounter really hard to comprehend Mandarin is in rural areas, especially out West, where Mandarin instruction is lax and there is no incentive to improve Mandarin speech as a local speaker.

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That ⬆️ makes sense.

For the record, in case I wasn’t clear above, if someone intends to tackle Chinese as a foreign language, I certainly recommend Mandarin over any other dialect. I learned it when I was 20-22, but spending 6 months in China was indispensable to my learning. When I got back I could speak very well (possibly fluently?). Reading and writing were another story, but I think I was pretty good for a foreigner.

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16 minutes ago, dracisk said:

That ⬆️ makes sense.

For the record, in case I wasn’t clear above, if someone intends to tackle Chinese as a foreign language, I certainly recommend Mandarin over any other dialect. I learned it when I was 20-22, but spending 6 months in China was indispensable to my learning. When I got back I could speak very well (possibly fluently?). Reading and writing were another story, but I think I was pretty good for a foreigner.

I won’t need to write or read Mandarin, just the ability to communicate with others,  is my goal. 

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57 minutes ago, curiouskitkatt said:

I won’t need to write or read Mandarin, just the ability to communicate with others,  is my goal. 

Well, that certainly simplifies matters. The tones will probably be your biggest challenge. I didn't really get them down until I'd been in China for a bit hearing Chinese all around me. But I don't think that's necessary! You could get to point of being able to communicate without going to China. Getting back to your original question, I'm not sure of the best way to learn Chinese. Maybe Rosetta Stone?

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I have reached out to a student group from Penn State Harrisburg. By coincedence, a restaurant proprietor I personally know,  will introduce me to tutors so that I may be able to engage in conversational practice. I am pretty excited to be able to learn Mandarin.

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2 hours ago, curiouskitkatt said:

In starting my path to learn Mandarin, I stumble upon this wine chronicle . I suddenly am feelin’ that learning a new language won’t be so hard after all . 

You're a wrong as you could possibly be, but I do like your tenacity.

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On 12/18/2018 at 1:28 AM, DonRocks said:

You're a wrong as you could possibly be, but I do like your tenacity.

You may have very well given me the motivation to seal it. You may not have know this about me Rocks, but the more someone tells me I’m wrong about something, the more it lights a fire under my tuckus to prove it can be done. When a task is hard or difficult, I enlist creative ways to achieve it. 

Back in college, instead of picking up one of the predictable languages, I chose Russian. Mind you this was back in 1992 , where not too many people were interested in learning Russian, I on the other hand was leaping at the chance. There was something fascinating about the dialect that captured me. Fast forward to the end of the semester, 4.0 in Russian. 

Why? Because my approach was not to learn the language literally, but rather immerse myself in the everyday life. Under the instruction of the Prof, we attended music recitals, watched  TV shows, and attended festivals as a means to learn about the culture. Lookin’ back on my freshman year, I also realized the real reason I wanted to learn Russian. I wanted to impress a boy. I wanted to stand out from the rest . It worked. 

Morale of the story, don’t underestimate someone who wants to make an impression. I plan on succeeding in this challenge I have set in motion in the best way I know how. However long it takes, I will be able to speak Mandarin. 

Resolute,

kat

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I've been curious about Mandarin from a picture point of view in regards to the characters. 

Thought Chineasy was an interesting educational tool. 

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Interesting! Please keep us updated, kat. This is something I've been thinking about, as my spoken and written Mandarin are horrible (a complete waste of a decade+ of Chinese school) BUT my listening/understanding skills continually surprise even my parents.  It comes from growing up in a household where the adults primarily spoke Mandarin and the kids were allowed to speak (mostly) English.  When I'm thrown in with a Mandarin-speaking group for a while, lots of conversational vocabulary comes pops up in bits and pieces. Now that I have kids, I would like them to have some grounding in the language, but am unsure how to achieve that given how useless I think forced instruction is and how little I am able to speak it. Maybe try to get them hooked on a YouTube series/TV show we watch together? Chineasy seems like a good game-like introduction. Can't wait to hear more about your learning journey.

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3 hours ago, Sundae in the Park said:

Interesting! Please keep us updated, kat. This is something I've been thinking about, as my spoken and written Mandarin are horrible (a complete waste of a decade+ of Chinese school) BUT my listening/understanding skills continually surprise even my parents.  It comes from growing up in a household where the adults primarily spoke Mandarin and the kids were allowed to speak (mostly) English.  When I'm thrown in with a Mandarin-speaking group for a while, lots of conversational vocabulary comes pops up in bits and pieces. Now that I have kids, I would like them to have some grounding in the language, but am unsure how to achieve that given how useless I think forced instruction is and how little I am able to speak it. Maybe try to get them hooked on a YouTube series/TV show we watch together? Chineasy seems like a good game-like introduction. Can't wait to hear more about your learning journey.

I’m waiting to connect with the students at Penn State Harrisburg. There is a restaurant that  is in my regular rotation in Middletown, Pa where the proprietor is 1st gen Chinese. The students have blessed Harmony as their home away from home. Howard has offered to personally introduce me to this body of students. I am hoping having Native speaking tutors will serve as a reliable means in learning conversational Mandarin. It’s an ambitious resolution, but I am up to the challenge. Thank you, all, for the encouragement as well as the interest in my lofty endeavor. Knowing their are people ” watchin”, encourages me to follow through, and not falter. 

Tenacious K, 

kat

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Some of friends got their son into a Mandarin immersion elementary school even though they don't speak the language. One of the strategies they employed, which apparently is popular in their set, is for their son to watch Peppa Pig episodes back to back in Mandarin and English. Their son's native Mandarin teacher was surprised by his vocabulary level with no Mandarin being spoken at home. 

Good luck Kat!

 

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1 hour ago, lion said:

Some of friends got their son into a Mandarin immersion elementary school even though they don't speak the language. One of the strategies they employed, which apparently is popular in their set, is for their son to watch Peppa Pig episodes back to back in Mandarin and English. Their son's native Mandarin teacher was surprised by his vocabulary level with no Mandarin being spoken at home. 

Good luck Kat!

All of your support, along with suggestions mean  a great deal to me. Thank you!  

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On 12/15/2018 at 7:34 AM, dracisk said:

Well, that certainly simplifies matters. The tones will probably be your biggest challenge. I didn't really get them down until I'd been in China for a bit hearing Chinese all around me. But I don't think that's necessary! You could get to point of being able to communicate without going to China. Getting back to your original question, I'm not sure of the best way to learn Chinese. Maybe Rosetta Stone?

BTW, I have the intro to Mandarin Rosetta Stone program, and while I like it, I actually don't think it's great for someone who doesn't already have a basic Chinese vocabulary (they "teach" vocabulary by showing pictures of multiple things without telling you what the word means in English! What the heck?). My husband, who took Mandarin in college, doesn't really like it or find it helpful to refresh his memory.  A conversational group is perfect, the best way to learn about people, culture, and pronunciation, but I would also suggest checking out library for books and/or audio/visual resources or free online resources. 

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