Chinese is hard. Not for the Chinese, but for those of us Westerners who “have spent years of their lives bashing their heads against the Great Wall of Chinese.” David Moser from the Department of Chinese Studies at University of Michigan said that.(I quoted an internet article because I do have morals, and refuse to plagiarize-even from the interwebs) I loved that visual and took it to heart last night during my second Chinese tutoring session when I banged my head on the table.
My husband and I are learning together. So, twice a week, our tutor comes to our home and teaches us from 6:30-8:30. His name is Yier but don’t try to pronounce it, you’ll get it wrong. He’s very patient and polite.
So, lesson time. Any of you who have children – or were once children yourselves – know that this is a very needy time. First, there is hunger. I must feed the masses. Then I must clean the table off because we have very limited table space. Did you know we have rented furniture? We’ve got a purple couch, no lie. Anyway, then the children need more things. They need to do things. They need help with things. They cannot find things. Then my husband inevitably gets stuck in traffic so I am sitting awkwardly with the tutor waiting for him. Then he gets home and is hungry and the cycle continues. You get the picture.
Back to Chinese, it’s hard. It’s even hard for the Chinese who proudly claim to have the most difficult language in the world. (They claim it in Chinese so you might not understand their claim…) It’s so hard that other languages have PHRASES claiming how hard it is. In French, it’s “C’est du chinois”. In Estonian it’s “See on nagu hiina keel.” In English, “It’s Chinese to me.” Sigh. I have no chance.
Why is it so hard.? Well, back to David Moser …he says the writing system is ridiculous. This, from a Chinese scholar. There are thousands and thousands of characters – which are so lovely but so, so complicated. I will never be able to read Chinese. Never. Not even going to try.
It’s also hard because Chinese is a tonal language – very unnatural for us Westerners. A slight change in the tone of a word completely changes it’s meaning. That’s how it’s possible that shùxué means “mathematics” while shūxuě means “blood transfusion”. You can imagine the fun. Intonation is just ingrained in the Chinese people but so hard for us to learn. And my mouth just can’t make some of the sounds correctly. Also, “zh” can sound like “jurr” and “i” can sound like “rrr”.
My journey to learn Chinese is just beginning. I wanted to share what I have learned so far:
Ni hao – hello
Zài jiàn – See you later
Bù mǎi – Don’t buy that
Yǒu jiānguǒ me? – Does this have nuts in it?
Ta dui jiānguǒ guoming – He is allergic to nuts.
In closing, you may want to know the different meanings of a word that sounds like “meow”:
Miáo – cat sound
Miāo – to aim
Miào – seconds
Miǎo – fabulous
See what I’m up against?