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Thursday, January 24, 2008

You Need to Know Why You Don't Understand People

If I ask 10 people this question: Do you think why you don't understand when you are talking to Chinese people?
It's a safe bet that I'll get one answer: It's the vocabulary. I need to learn more vocabulary.

Vocabulary certainly is a barrier, but it is one only for beginners. There are people who have learned Chinese for years, and accumulate vast amount of vocabulary. But when in real life, they still get lost quite quickly.

In fact you face three barriers:
1- vocabulary and sentence patterns
2- talking speed
3- accent

The first one is the easiest one to solve. You can employ many different methods. The end result is to remember certain words and sentence patterns. It's also the reason why learning reading and writing is easier than learning listening and speaking. When in reading and writing, your brain has time to recollect your memory, and if you have done your homework well you will find it easy to learn reading and writing. Although it's the easiest one to accomplish, memorizing large amount of vocab and grammar patterns can still be a daunting task.

The second one is not so easy to tackle. And most of the time, it's speaking speed that hinders your understanding. You have no time to reflect and it's already over. You need to have rigorous training on listening until a foreign sound becomes so familiar and you can call it your second nature. It's not so easy. It requires hours and hours of listening training.

The third one is the most difficult. When you are out of your classroom and your standard tape recording, you face people with different accents. There are so many different accents out there. And those accents can really lost you. The good news is if this is the only reason why you don't understand, you can adapt to it fairly quickly.

In the end, that's just why there's so much fun in learning Chinese!

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Want to ride a bus, anyone?

I stayed in Beijing for a week from Dec 26, 2007 to Jan 1, 2008.

It was a good time to visit Beijing, to appreciate the Forbidden City and the Great Wall in the cold and very windy winter. And indeed I saw plenty visitors from all over the world in those places. People speak all kinds of languages and some of foreign visitors can speak Chinese too.

But when I was outside of the tourist attractions, I saw no foreign visitors. When I was in a public bus, or when I was in a small neighborhood restaurant, or when I was in a local convenient store, I had no foreign visitor in sight! Where did they go? What did they do?

I sincerely hope that Beijing's attraction is beyond the Forbidden City and the Great Wall. And people (at least those who take Mandarin lessons) are courageous enough to explore some small wonders in the nearby neighborhoods, and can have the opportunity to see ordinary people's lives.