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An old man struggling with the language

Popularity 2Viewed 1665 times 2016-1-17 15:22 |System category:News| Chinese language, difficulty learning, older

My family and I first visited China in 2008.  We came back to live in 2009.  I was 53 when I started studying the Chinese language.  Of course I knew that Chinese is considered a difficult language to learn, but I thought, how hard could it be?  I really expected that after a year or two of persistent study, I would achieve a functional level of oral Chinese.  Of course since I'm writing this blog, clearly my language learning goal was not achieved. 

There was no beginning Chinese class at the college where I studied when I arrived in China, so I sat in on the intermediate class.  For the first semester I relied on a tutor to tell me what I "studied" in class each day.  It wasn't till my second year, and a lot of help from tutors, before I started to feel like I could communicate in Chinese at all.  One additional complication was that my Chinese teacher taught standard Mandarin.  However, most of the people that I needed to communicate with on a daily basis spoke a Sichuan dialect or the language of the primary minority group in this area, Yi.  So, even if I had a good day in class, my joy was short-lived when I found I still could not understand the local shopkeepers.

Of course my family and I speak English at home and I teach English every day, both on campus and at home.  Any time my students see me they want to practice their English.  So on a daily basis I speak English much more than Chinese, though I study Chinese to some extent every day.  I think this is one thing that hinders my Chinese learning, at least to some degree.  I have a number of Chinese friends who volunteer to practice Chinese with me, however they are not teachers and they quickly get tired of repeating what they have said and correcting my poor grammar and pronunciation.  One friend even told me "Your Chinese hurts my ears!"

So, I have been in China for almost all of the last six years and my level of Chinese proficiency is still depressingly low.  I can teach English without being proficient in Chinese, but my language abilities (or lack thereof) do limit my ability to make friends, travel, learn the culture and generally enjoy the experience of living in China.

My Chinese teachers at the college gave me this advice: "Read it again and again" or "Say it again and again". (OK, tried that.) Of course my friends tell me to "practice every day" (OK, got it), study more, talk more, etc., (OK, trying).  I still have a tutor who helps me a lot with pronunciation and oral Chinese for daily use.  I lave lots of great friends.

But I'm curious, are there others out there who have experienced this rather dismal pace of language learning?  Any additional advice for an "older" language learner who is struggling with the language?  Any suggestions will be greatly appreciated! Well, perhaps with the exception of "read it again and again".

(Opinions of the writer in this blog don't represent those of China Daily.)


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Reply Report luckyann 2016-1-19 11:58
Firstly, you'd believe in this proverb: It's never too old to learn.

Perhaps I don't think you have enough time to practice Chinese or communicate with friends in Standard Mandarin or Sichuan dialect in daily life.You know it's impossible  to master a luanguage in a short time.

GOOD LUCK AND kEEP UP YOUR GOOD WORK !
Reply Report HenLaoLaoShi 2016-1-19 12:23
luckyann: Firstly, you'd believe in this proverb: It's never too old to learn.

Perhaps I don't think you have enough time to practice Chinese or communicate wi ...
Yes, I know I was quite naive.  And the there is a Chinese saying equivalent to "You're never to old to learn"  Of course I can't remember it right now.  But I do seem to learn more slowly than many of my foreign friends.  I always feel like I must be dong something wrong!  Never the less, carry on!  
Reply Report BlondeAmber 2016-1-19 19:37
Try finding a language partner who understands the necessity of repetition.
Learning a language is like learning a musical instrument - you often have to repeat the same thing many times to get it right.

good luck!
Reply Report luckyann 2016-1-23 09:27
HenLaoLaoShi: Yes, I know I was quite naive.  And the there is a Chinese saying equivalent to "You're never to old to learn"  Of course I can't remember i ...
Don't worry,just take it easy.

"I'm a slow walker but I never go backwards," that's one of my mottoes.

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  • An old man struggling with the language 2016-1-23 09:27

    HenLaoLaoShi: Yes, I know I was quite naive.  And the there is a Chinese saying equivalent to "You're never to old to learn"  Of course I can't remember i ...
    Don't worry,just take it easy.

    "I'm a slow walker but I never go backwards," that's one of my mottoes.

  • Expectations of a foreign English teacher 2016-1-21 13:44

    I don't think I would enjoy the Beijing lifestyle either.  I am in a rural part of southern Sichuan.  As the students say, this college "is not very famous".  It is really not anyone's first choice school, but the kids seem motivated for the most part.  I had to give up my introvert ways when I started teaching, but I'm still not too good at making things fun.  I'll have to think about the competition aspect.  I already have them divided into groups for projects.

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