When we first arrived to Taiwan, we started noticing little, weird things. You could see signs saying “3C” everywhere, hear trucks playing Für Elise driving around, and then, after figuring these out, we realized no matter where you looked, be it a neon sign with dates on it in a bank, or a receipt from a convenience store, everywhere, before the month and the day, you could see the number 106. We were making up these conspiracy theories and trying to calculate the end of the world based on this number, but couldn’t really figure out what it was.
At some point we learned that that is, as a matter of a fact, the year which they live in Taiwan, marking their independence. Living in Taiwan is giving us an insight into a remarkable piece of world history. We have been hearing the other side of the story, which goes all the way to 1800´s, and involves being treated like an object by China, and being owned by Japan. No matter what your opinion on the China – Taiwan situation is, it is a fascinating story with two totally different ways to tell it.
I have also taken huge steps in my Chinese. Although I constantly feel like I am still stuck on the cat, dog, one, two, three level, I must admit, the difference between my Chinese late December and now is remarkable. I have had pretty casual chats on volunteering, domestic violence and the drinking habits of Finns. My understanding in every day situations is clearly better than it used to be, and I am figuring out grammar things I struggled with while living in Beijing.
Then again, there’s those days I cannot say a word without it being incorrect, or I do badly in an exam or just in general feel bad about my Chinese. However, I’m trying to concentrate on the positive; the most remarkable thing is (and I don’t know when this change happened) I no longer avoid doing things simply because I don’t know the vocabulary or am afraid of making a mistake. Which, to be honest, I probably will make.
One thing I’ve noticed is that there’s basically two conditions required for my conversations in Chinese to go well: First, the other person must not speak English back to me. For some reason, that really pushes me off the track, and I just cannot. Second, I’m at my best when there’s no one around me, who knows how well or bad I speak Chinese. I mostly speak better in a store or restaurant or with a language partner than I often do with my class mates or teacher. Don’t know why…
I have been talking with my friends (I kid you not! I’ve made some, although I’m the most antisocial person ever 🙂 ) and classmates about the phenomenon where the locals just decide to reply to your every question in English. Especially in the beginning I was so annoyed and anxious every time that happened, like dude, I know my Chinese sucks, just let me practice or do you actually think it’s so bad that we cannot have this simple conversation in your language?
But, after some time now, I’m starting to realize that Taiwanese people are just really, really nice and helpful, and if you ask them to speak Chinese, they will. Plus, they are very creative and hardworking people and wish to practice their English. So, no bad intentions, just politeness and taking the opportunity to learn.
As for studying in the intensive class in MTC, I have noticed there is a reason it’s called intensive. As we only study three hours a day, you’d think there’s a ton of free time. No. No, there absolutely is not. As we were told, they require at least four hours of independent studying after classes. Turns out, most times that’s not nearly enough. I’ve practically been living in the school library after classes, and still feel like I should do more. Aaaand, I’m not the only one.
Yesterday at the school gym, this young man who introduced himself as David wanted to take turns on one of the machines. I learned he’s also studying at the Mandarin Training Center, on A1 level (very beginner), in the intensive program. And he’s dying. He was desperate, asking me if it’s really possible to even learn the language, and do I feel like one can survive in the intensive program. So, in the end, I, a person who’s been struggling to learn Chinese so long, ended up giving him a pep talk on how it will eventually come. I told him that you just need to remind yourself that you’ve learned English fluently, why not Chinese?
I also pointed out, that when you first start studying Chinese, there are three things you need to learn that are unique to the language:
- Characters and how to read and write them,
- pinyin aka the phonetic pronunciation system and how to use it and
- Chinese grammar
He looked quite relieved when I told him that pretty much everyone has the same struggle. At that point, however, I also realized how far I’ve come. Can’t say my Chinese was extra good, I still sometimes fail to hear numbers correctly and forget how to order a bowl of rice, but these things happen so rarely anymore. I can handle normal, every day situations just fine. That is like 2000% percent more than I could when we moved here. And on those days when I feel that my Chinese is going nowhere, that I just cannot, I tell myself to stop comparing myself to others.
After all, how many people can say there are bad in Chinese? Like, that actually implies that, in the end, you do know some Chinese. And that’s awesome!
PS: I am amazed how full of wonderful people the world is when you just open up a little bit. I posted to this language exchange page on FB, and amazing things started happening. I got loads and loads of friend requests, I’ve been chatting with so many people in Chinese and English every day, and I got a ton of offers for language exchange. Some people don’t even need you to teach them English or Finnish, they just like to hang out with foreigners and teach us. But as much I’d have loved to hang with each and everyone, I picked a couple people to meet face to face and practice Chinese with. Not a bad decision.
We have also made new friends in bars, at school and through other channels, and it’s weird, scary and amazing 🙂 🙂 My attempts to improve my bad Chinese has brought us wonderful new friends!
PPS: The best part of having friends is that they will also give you a pep talk when one is needed ❤