learning chinese mandarin

I walk into Starbuck’s on 46th and Chandler Boulevard. It’s on the other side of town, but I don’t mind. I’m ten minutes early for my second Mandarin lesson, and the place is nearly packed. I hurry over to the only table left and sit down. I lay my notebook on the table and begin studying my lesson from the previous week. Xie xie means thank you. Now how do I pronounce it correctly again? Is it a “sh” sound or “ch” sound…short i sound, or short e sound? More customers walk in and check the place out as they stand in line ready to order their lattes and frappuccinos. They seem to stare at me since I’m siting alone at a table with two empty chairs. No way I’m giving up my table though! I continue studying. Bu ke qi means your welcome and zai jian means goodbye. Of course, the spelling of these words is only a phonetic representation of how they are pronounced. We haven’t yet focused on Mandarin characters, although they are there written next to the phonetic spelling of each word. I try to acquaint myself with the characters, but they don’t quite stick in my mind. I continue to sit and then wonder if I should get something to drink, a hot tea or coffee while I’m waiting. I decide not to; have to save as much as possible for the trip to Taiwan.

My tutor, Shuchen, arrives shortly. Big smile and warm welcome. Shuchen is as petite as petite can be, but really big on enthusiasm. I appreciate her peppy spirit and her obvious interest in why I’m going to Taiwan and helping me learn Mandarin. We focus on learning language that will help me get by in the short amount of time we have before I go on my trip and will later focus more on filling in the gaps. I’m happy with this arrangement and try my best to get the pronunciation down and remember what the heck I’m actually saying in Mandarin. What’s familiar about Mandarin is that it’s a tonal language. I studied Vietnamese for a while, which is another tonal language very similar to Mandarin. This helps and I’m able to hear and pronounce the 4 different tones (really 5) pretty easily. Shuchen is very encouraging and tells me that being a musician also helps in hearing  the inflection of each tone. Right on!

Recently, I got hooked on a Korean drama, “Boys Over Flowers” and watched the episodes online through Hulu. I looked up Taiwanese dramas thinking that it would be helpful in getting Mandarin “in my ear.” There is a Taiwanese version of “Boys Over Flowers” called “Meteor Garden.” It came out in 2001 and appears to have been very popular and apparently stars some of Taiwan’s most popular young actors and actresses. The online streaming was really awful though, so I didn’t watch more than a few minutes of the first episode. Instead, I began watching another Taiwanese drama on Hulu called, “Single Princesses and Blind Dates.” It’s not nearly as good as “Boys Over Flowers” and I can’t say that I’m hooked, but it’s definitely good for listening and trying to learn Mandarin! I wish there was an easier way to learn another language and quickly. As it is, I’ll just keep meeting with Shuchen. I’m glad that I found the right tutor, and am really enjoying learning Mandarin despite the difficulty.

5 thoughts on “learning chinese mandarin

  1. Soo

    Wow, wishing you lots of luck with your Mandarin studying! I did my own crash course in Korean before going to Korea with podcasts, but I think your method will probably be much more helpful. 🙂

    Oh, I also want to suggest a drama to you. As a fellow Boys Over Flowers fan, I absolutely loved the Taiwanese drama It Started With a Kiss. There is also a second season called They Kiss Again. I have watched all my dramas through mysoju.com

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    1. Marijane Post author

      Thanks, Soo! I love listening to the Korean language, another beautiful language. Do you listen to much Korean music? I’ve been listening to K-pop lately and love it.

      I’m so glad to know that you’re also a BOF fan. Thanks for your recommendation on It Started With a Kiss. I’ve heard of it, or seen it advertised online, and look forward to watching it soon!

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      1. Soo

        Yes, I love K-pop! It’s usually such feel-good music and so addictive. 2NE1 is one of my all-time favorite groups amongst others. 🙂

        Anyways, I hope you enjoy ISWAK!

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  2. anewmoon123

    MJ, how do you pronounce “xie xie” phonetically? I am so excited about your adventure. I learned French in high school and still remember the language. However, as an adult I have tried to learn Spanish and not with much success. I admire you very much. You are so committed to your adventure. I feel as though I am going myself.

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    1. Marijane Post author

      Hey Carole! Well, it’s difficult to explain how to say xie xie because in English there’s really no equivalent to the way the x is pronounced. It’s a little like “shi-ay shi-ay,” but not quite the “sh” sound in English (short i sound for the “i”). I think it’s a beautiful language. I wish it were easier to learn a new language though. I hope to continue on after my trip to Taiwan and maybe become somewhat fluent over time. Carole, I wish you could come with me to Taiwan. We’d have soooo much fun!!

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