I’m not sure if I mentioned it before, but I’ve been taking Chinese lessons. So far, I’ve had five lessons. I’ve hired a tutor to teach me once per week for an hour. At first, I was wondering if an hour would be enough, but by the end of each lesson, my head feels like it’s going to explode because it’s filled with new words and phrases. Many of them, I forget before the next week, but it’s gradually getting easier to remember. My teacher is great. She’s very enthusiastic and happy and patient, which I think is a perfect combination for teaching language.

I’ve always really respected the ability of people to learn English and just plunge into Canada with it. I don’t know how successful I’d be if I had to do the same in China. I guess I’d learn, but it wouldn’t be easy. So far, Chinese grammar seems reasonably easy, but there are certain things that are different from English. For instance, some words that I would think of as adjectives can also be used as verbs. The word “very” is an example of this. Saying “I’m very cold” translates directly to “I very cold” in Chinese. Also, there are no verb tenses. You indicate when something is happening by adding a word like “today” or “tomorrow” to the sentence. It explains why a Chinese person speaking English might say something like, “I very cold yesterday.” It also explains why my Chinese teacher gave me a funny look when I said in Chinese, “I am very cold.” Yea.

The most challenging thing by far in Chinese is the tonal system. Each syllable can be said in any of four tones. There’s high tone, falling tone, dipping tone, and rising tone. If you get the wrong tone matched to the word, the word means something completely unrelated and different. Getting the tones right is the difference between being understood, and talking complete gibberish. I had this problem in China. People’s ears were extremely unforgiving to incorrect tones, and they didn’t even seem to be able to guess what I was saying based on the sound of the word, aside from the tone. It was frustrating while I was there, but I understand now that it has to be this way, since there are only around 400 possible syllables in Chinese, compared to 12,000 in English. The tones are the only way to distinguish one word from another, so Chinese ears are highly tuned to them. Here’s a video that gives you some examples of words and tones.

Good times.

Anyway, I’m enjoying my CSL experience. I’m looking forward to going back to China with my new knowledge too. Just give me a few more lessons first though…