Tag Archives: language

Language…and communication

I am not gifted at languages. In part because I am not particularly auditory. I am a bit on the tone deaf side, and it is getting worse as I get older, as is my hearing in general, and I like silence most of the time.

I studied Japanese for a year, over a year before my first trip there. We weren’t planning the trip when we took the course and I wasn’t actually all that interested. I only took it because that was the only way the community college would let my then 14 year old son take the class (we were homeschooling other subjects).

Brag: He was 14, I was 41 and everyone else in the class was between us, including the instructor. We BOTH aced it! (I was so proud).

But when we got feet on the ground, my carefully learned Japanese flew out the window, except for a few phrases. (My son did better.)

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It is All Chinese to Me

I am not lazy, but I lack aptitude for language learning. Unless I have a goal it is hard to motivate myself to buckle down and really learn a language. Other stuff drifts to a higher priority.

I am trying to learn Chinese, again. This is my third try. Language isn’t my thing, even in my native tongue when I need words they just don’t come. One reason that I rarely post is that it takes me longer than a day to pull together a response.

When I traveled to China before, I have been twice now, it has been with a lot of dependence on other people. I have managed surprisingly well and had some great experiences (see Let’s Go Fly a Kite, A Picture and a Phrasebook Saved the Day, and Happy Mama).  But this time I decided that

  1. I really want to be able to communicate with people on my own.
  2. I want to go to a couple of places that are not on the western tourist track on my own.

I only decided to go about two months before takeoff, a very short time for someone who is all but tone deaf to try and learn a tonal language.

Before my first and second trips I tried using two different book plus CD programs. With the first, I ran through it once then listened to it in the car. After almost a year and a half of doing that, including several trips to and from California where I heard all three CDs twice a day, I made almost no progress. I was unable to recognize the words when someone other than the canned voice spoke them, or come up with them myself in real life situations (Although, I can say nihao and xiexie). But worse than that, I really could not speak the phrases in the phrase book. I couldn’t figure out how to follow and correctly pronounce the pinyin (Chinese phonics system). Nor could I recognize if someone responded with a phrase in the phrase book.

With the second I just couldn’t get into it. I think it was designed more to be used as an aid in a class where the instructor took you through it rather than working on one’s own. I took that one with me to China last time and tried to work on it in the morning then go out and listen for the phrases. I never recognized a thing.

This time, with six weeks to go before take off I started an on-line course (YoyoChinese.com). This seems to be going better.  It helps to be able to see the person forming the words, and they focus on how the tones sound in a variety of real words (saying “ma” five different ways many, many, many times really didn’t help me). It also has a Chinese on the Street segment so you can hear a variety of voices using the material in context. So every morning now I am spending 45 minutes to an hour studying Chinese.

I know that some people have a better ear, are more linguistically oriented,  and are more courageous about trying than I am, but I really think the idea that one can just pick up a language with no effort is blarney.

T – 14 days for my real life test, I’d better get back to work.

In response to The Daily Post’s writing prompt: “Lazy Learners.”