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Barry from Australia is a questioning soul who looks at social issues from an alternative point of view and instead of asking, “Why?”, he asks “Why not?” He’s convinced that many of his previous incarnations were spent in China. He feels drawn to the people there; attracted by their rich culture and way of life. If given one wish from God, he’d reply, “I want everyone on Earth to be the same colour, speak the same language, and treat each other as they themselves would like to be treated.”
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Is China a Good Place to Live for a Westerner? Part 5 of the Teaching in China Series    

By Barry Pittman
4790 Views | 38 Comments | 12/5/2015 1:26:54 PM

令人遗憾的是文章不能翻译成中文。

有些中国女士可能对它有兴趣,如果西方男士选择住在中国,他将面临的困难局面。



My last article dealt with continuing aspects of teaching in China.  This one deals with a more funadamental question - IS CHINA  A RECOMMENDED PLACE TO LIVE FOR A FOREIGNER?  Of the 58 blogs so far penned here on CLM, I personally regard this as one of my most meaningful since it deals with such an important issue.



Okay, let's get straight down to it.  The answer to this question is two-fold as follows.



1.  Foreigners who knew how to speak Chinese:  China was a fascinating place to live for the longer term for those interested in doing so.



2.  Foreigners who didn’t know how to speak Chinese:   China was a fascinating place to live short term, up to maybe one or two years - NOT recommended by me to reside long term.  Unless one was willing to settle for highly urbanised and/or touristy places such as Shanghai, Hangzhou or Shenzen, where English was more common and life was more bearable for a non-Chinese speaking person. But what's the point of living in an overcrowded concrete jungle, as basically they were all similar, worldwide. Lots of activity; lots of traffic; lots of shops, pollution and people. Why go to the trouble of moving to China to experience this?



Such large cosmopolitan regions don't truly represent the authentic soul of the country any more than New York represents the beating heartland of the United States or Sydney represents the charm of Australia.  This article primarily refers to those adventurous folk considering residing away from the huge metropolises, to regions where McDonalds, KFC and Starbucks were unheard of strange foreign entities.  Living in places that could be described as TRUE China, areas that surely would possess more character, more genuine diversity and tradition than just another monoxide-filled urban sprawl.  But if you want to live within spitting distance of a KFC or Maccas and you feel that living in a rat-raced megalopolis is "true China",  then go for it!



EXPLANATION



Let me explain my views here.  Amplify my bold assertions.



I fell into category two, not knowing how to speak Mandarin. So without help, I was constantly at odds with what was going on around me.  I frequently felt out of the loop.  People would often babble and I was oblivious to what had been said.  I was constantly wondering or asking “What did he say?” or “What did she want?”



The novelty of this soon wore thin, especially when unaccompanied.  I was constantly missing out on many interesting pieces of information and small talk  -  all part of the bewildering mosaic of Chinese life and culture - simply because I had no idea what was being spoken.  I felt increasingly frustrated by this.  Over time, an ENORMOUS amount of interesting trivia and information exchange was being missed out on simply because of language.



Note I was feeling this way even though I was often accompanied by a bilingual Chinese friend (Tina).  MY FEELINGS OF EXASPERATION WOULD'VE BEEN SO MUCH WORSE WERE I TRAVELING ALONE. 



A Westerner coming to China by himself with no clue how to speak the language was in for a tough road ahead.  One way around this was to arrange employment as an English teacher in a school or university where other foreigners worked, who could help you out, show you the ropes.  But after a while, this wouldn't be enough, that is, you'd still be very limited in your appreciation and comprehension of China and things Chinese, as soon as you stepped beyond the boundaries of the school.



“Right”  I heroically resolved at one stage, “I’m gonna learn a bit of Chinese!”



IF YOU CAN'T BEAT 'EM, JOIN 'EM!



I figured enthusiastically if somewhat naively that if I could master basic Pinyin (Chinese language using Western style characters rather than the chicken scratching type of alphabet), life would become so much smoother here.  Makes sense, right?



Wrong!



To my consternation, I quickly learnt that Chinese language has four basic tones.  One can say a word with a barely noticeable incorrect tone and the result can have an entirely different meaning to that intended.  Westerners continually grappled in exasperation with these subtle tonal differences as they attempted to learn Mandarin.  For Chinese however, voice tones had been force fed, hammered and inculcated into them since early childhood, so it was second nature to them.  Some impolite inhabitants smirked or outright laughed at stupid Westerners' inability to comprehend these.



For example, I recently met a teenage boy here named “Yung Wei”.  This isn’t the correct Chinese spelling, but is spelt how it phonetically sounds to a native English speaker.



“Please be careful how you speak to him, Barry”  Tina advised me.  I then repeated his name to her several times. Easy enough, right?



“No, no, no!” Tina exclaimed.  "Your pronunciation is wrong. What you are saying isn't his name, but actually means “impotent” or “soft penis”.  He'll be offended if you address him like this!”



So I repeated Yung Wei’s name many times to Tina.  Half the time I called him by his right name using the correct tone  - and half the time inadvertently I called him a soft cock!  Yet the variation in tone was almost imperceptible to my Western ears.  But it was of critical importance in the real world.



I then practised some other Chinese words but continually found the same annoying thing.  I wasn’t using the correct tone or voice inflection most of the time. Thus if I spoke to a native using my poor pronunciation, they’d have no idea what I was trying to say to them.  Because tone of the words -  how you say them, not just what you say  -  was crucial. Worse still, a Chinese won't necessarily accommodate or make allowances for tonal errors, just because they're uttered by an ignorant Westerner.  So one needed to be correct and precise at all times.  Near enough just wasn't good enough in day to day communication with citizens who weren't aware they were talking to a blundering gringo with imprecise Mandarin ability.



SUPER HARD



Feeling quite deflated, the next step in attempting to learn basic Chinese was to research on the internet how difficult it was to master according to the experts.  Maybe it was just me that was finding it so troublesome? To my dismay, both the US State Department and the Foreign Service Institute ranked Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, Japanese and Arabic all in the “super hard” or “exceptionally hard” category. 



Oh, my Godfather!



I’ve thus given up the idea of learning Chinese.  It’s just too damn difficult. I’ve no doubt that it could be accomplished eventually, but not before many months of study had passed. Two years of regular training around twenty hours per week - plus live there for a few months in order to practice - had been quoted by the State Dept in order to achieve reasonable fluency. A friend of mine said don't bother with this, just spend an hour per day on it.  But even this was a big commitment, given everything else occurring around me.  I just didn’t have the time -  nor the inclination  -  to spare.  It's something I can live without.  I have better things to do than spend ten or twenty hours per week  - every week  - learning Chinese. 



BYE BYE, MISS AMERICAN PIE



An annoying song kept rattling around in my head. How did it go again?



Bye bye Miss American Pie



Drove my Chevy to the levy



But the levy was dry



"Miss American Pie" in this instance means the Mandarin language.  "Drove my Chevy to the levy but the levy was dry" refers to my futile hopes to learn it.



This places me in the situation of living in a country where constantly I have no real idea of what’s going on around me, unless I’m with Tina.  Sure, the big stuff unfolding around me is comprehensible, but all the interesting minutiae of life and culture are lost. It's akin to living in a world where I can see multiple rainbows as a whole but frustratingly cannot discern their colours, marvel at their vibrancy and richness.  I intuitively know that I'm missing out on a helluva lot, chronically constrained by my phonetic ignorance and this continually exasperated me.



BUT THERE'S MORE



This isn't the end of the story. There’s more to living in China for a hapless Westerner than language problems.  These are difficult but not insurmountable IF you have the right bilingual partner and if you're willing to live with this significant impediment.  Or if you live in a touristy town like Hangzhou or a big business region where English is more common. But are there any other important aspects for an expat to consider before deciding to live here?



China's a rapidly developing country with an ever expanding middle class.  This means people are constantly on the move, trying to afford that next new car or that slightly larger apartment.  Everywhere you visit  - rural areas excepted  - citizens are bustling, on the move. Go, go, go!  Real estate prices in the big cities are astronomical, often in the millions of yuan for a decent yet not luxury place.



As a general rule in China, the cars and motorcycles drove like crazy, often with horns blaring.  People walked down the street, with some habitually spitting on the sidewalk.  Voices were frequently raised, with many folks jabbering to each other quite loudly.  Just today, I drove in a taxi with the driver shouting so thunderously into his mobile phone as we careered down the road overtaking everything in sight that I seriously contemplated putting ear plugs in. No, I'm not kidding!   Yet the other three Chinese passengers in the car didn't bat an eyelid.  They all looked as if sustaining ear damage whilst traveling in a cab was just a normal, de rigueur part of life in this glorious, frenetic kingdom.



Last week walking down the street, a man nearly gave me a heart attack when he answered his phone close to me and started loudly barking and caterwauling into it, like a sergeant-major ranting to his troops before a big battle.  I'm sure the people on the other side of the road could discern his words, such was his shrieking conversation. Silently cursing him, I felt compelled to briskly move away, annoyed yet again why so many people in China had such big, bellowing mouths.



I don't want to mention other dark aspects of China such as dogs being locked within bird cages, heart wrenching poverty in some areas, air pollution or tap water that's not advisable to drink.  Let's not go there, too much to talk about, too much to worry about, too much to get angry about.



POSITIVES



China of course has many wonderful aspects, such as having heaps of beautiful ladies, huge swathes of spectacular scenery and an amazingly rich culture.  I admire the gritty diligence of its workers, its immense diversity and the uplifting ambitions and aspirations of the country as a whole, that now possesses the second highest GDP in the world.



Most Chinese are decent, kind hearted souls who don't spit everywhere and bellow into their phones, it's just a small minority that do this. But this hard core of uncouth, impolite people do tend to spoil it for everyone. Analogous to how a small percentage of slutty Western playboys in the past have created a false impression in the eyes of many ladies here that most single Western men in China must have questionable morals.  What a shame.  The trouble is, urban myths even if completely untrue tend to be self-perpetuating, very difficult to erase or eradicate.



It's a ludicrous situation that for this reason, decent Western men have a much better chance of hooking up with a demure Chinese lady if they are NOT living in China. What sort of sick joke is this! Yet it's true.



Another plausible explanation to help explain this disappointing anomaly must also be that a percentage of Chinese ladies would far prefer to be living in a Western country than in China.  Anyone who denies this are simply naive. Rejecting reality.  Several Chinese for example, have intermittently asked me in incredulity what I was doing.  To paraphrase them, "Why are you living here rather than in a comfortable place like Australia with its warm climate, clean air and nice living conditions?"



Whether the ladies would actually be ultimately happier in a Western country is a debatable point.  I touched upon this crucial question in an earlier article as follows.



https://blog.chinalovematch.net/blog/article/Employment-Problem-for-Chinese-Ladies-in-Western-Countries



In any case, to hapless men working in China caught in this situation where they were having difficulties meeting suitable partners, it'd be interesting to see the difference in responses if they changed their address from a Chinese to a Western one.  Then when ladies contacted them, they could say something such as "What a wonderful stroke of luck  -  I just happen to be in China right now!"   But this digression is an interesting topic for another time. Let's get back to the primary subject here. The main game.



REALITY BITES



Whilst all the dynamism around a newbie Westerner in China is fascinating at first, the novelty of it eventually wanes. Reality bites. I don’t now feel fully at peace amidst all the babble and the brouhaha; the clamour and the clatter.  After reflecting upon this for many weeks, feeling a slight unease, a vaguely unsettling internal dissonance, a confounding realisation grudgingly dawned on me.  As nice as China was in so many ways, it was NOT quite right for me long term.  I knew then -  rather regrettably I might add - that I couldn't live here for as long as initially planned, even with Tina's continual help in the translation area.



This truth helped unburden me.  Something had been nagging away at my psyche for quite a while whilst living here until the solution to the dilemma revealed itself.  I realised also that a more subdued environment, where the people were a little quieter, more gentle and closer to nature was what I really desired.  A place where folks were less focused on driving like maniacs, shouting at each other and chasing the almighty dollar (yuan).  One where I didn’t constantly feel I was part of some maddening rat race, living to work, rather than working to live.  Where I didn't have to hear many people often snorting like pigs and spitting great gobs of phlegm onto the sidewalk right there in front of me. A place where I wasn't laughed at as some sort of comedy act when people realised all I knew was a pitiful handful of Chinese words or phrases. Often this was a huge source of amusement to a hard core of tactless people, but the joke soon wore thin on me as the scenario recurred again, again and again.



Bear in mind that everything I say here are PERSONAL VIEWS only. We’re all individuals with varying levels of tolerance, material needs and understanding.  What doesn’t suit one person may well suit another. Horses for courses.  A younger person for example, might relish living in a fast paced, foreign environment like this.  A younger  person may also not mind spending a couple of thousand hours mastering Mandarin.  Remember that I'm an ageing plodder with a few precious, personal priorities in my life -  that do NOT include learning one of the most difficult languages on Earth!



I'm also acutely cognisant that I have exactly one day shorter to live for every 24 hours that passes.  So time's important to me. Maybe it's less crucial to someone junior, where a couple of year's language learning might be no big deal?



WHAT ARE THE ALTERNATIVES?



Okay, if China doesn't quite suit, where else is there?  Where do I go from here, once my teaching job in Sichuan Province finishes? 



Most important of all, where does this place my ongoing relationship with Tina?  Given that unlike most of her peers, she doesn't want to live in Australia, at least not before her retirement in four years. But even then, her feelings toward living in a Western country appear luke warm at best. I'm unsure why, as when she visited me in Australia last year, she enjoyed her time there.



Good questions. To my half dozen or so gentle, dedicated readers, with your tireless and appreciated indulgence, I'll answer these in my next article.



Comments to this article are of course welcome.  But remember - this is a NO SPIN ZONE.  I intend to speak the truth as I see it quietly and clearly.  Criticisms will of course be taken more seriously from those WHO LIKE ME, ARE LIVING IN CHINA RIGHT NOW.



To be continued


Copyright owned jointly by Author and CyberCupid Co., Ltd. Breach of copyright will be prosecuted.
Comments
(Showing 1 to 10 of 38) 1 2 3 4 More...
#2015-12-18 13:43:12 by JohnAbbot @JohnAbbot

Well, Barry, this is a bit of a surprise. It isn't a surprise that you are starting suffer China burnout, but this seems to be hitting you faster than it has hit most of the foreigners in China that I have met over time. For myself I didn't really start to feel it for several years.

I have to tell you that the one possible flaw I have seen in your approach to China is your insistence on spending your time in "rural" China and avoid the huge cities. To each his own, of course, but my finding was that being parked in a larger city, and just traveling for short periods of time, like a week or so, to the more rural or secluded areas, was a better way to avoid being driven crazy by the extreme cultural differences.

The reason that worked better for me was simply that the larger cities all had pockets where you could find an almost Western normalcy. In those pockets you could find a Western coffee shop (usually Starbucks unfortunately, but still a breath of home), a Western pub, a Western market with some Western food, and even a bookstore with a Western (English) section that actually has some decent books for English readers. And, of course, you also found hanging out their a substantial number of Westerners who you could sit and talk to for a while.

Add to that, the Chinese people you found within that pocket were usually there because they wanted to discover and enjoy everything they could about Westerners and to Westernize themselves. So rather than laughingly mocking you in a language you had no hope of understanding, they were happy to be able to speak English and learn from you.

In other words, in the big Cities you find pockets of Western sanity, that makes all the Chinese insanity surrounding you seem not so overwhelming and therefore not so insane. I am guessing that out where you are you are not able to escape the endless difference that surrounds you, and it probably becomes a little maddening.

I don't really have a very clear picture of where you are in China exactly, and where the nearest city with a healthy sized foreign contingent might be, but if at all possible I highly recommend that you take every second weekend and go spend that time in such a city. Spend those 2 days wallowing in as much Western Culture as you possibly can.

If Tina can and wishes to go with you, all the better, as she might well appreciate you more when she can see you operating in your own culture without need of her constant assistance, and where she may actually need to lean on you sometimes.

It is just a thought, but those 2 days out of 14 might be all you need to start to enjoy the differences you bump into during the other 12 days instead of resenting them.

Meanwhile though, I understand what you are feeling, and feel bad that you are bumping up against it. I hope that you can find a way to overcome.

#2015-12-18 18:28:09 by Barry1 @Barry1

@JohnAbbot

"Well, Barry, this is a bit of a surprise"

Yes, you're correct John. Though I did say this article was a NO SPIN ZONE and I didn't intend to pull any punches, so I recounted just how I feel. The good, the bad and the ugly.

Please bear in mind that I said China was fine in my view for a non-Mandarin speaker for one or two years, I certainly didn't wish to imply that foreigners shouldn't come here to live at all. I hope though that the article presented a little valuable food for thought for some people who otherwise had nothing but idealistic stars in their eyes about coming to live and work in China.

The nearest big city to me is Chengdu, about a ninety minute bus trip away. But Tina has zero interest in staying there - she hates big cities - which means I'd be visiting Chengdu by myself. But what fun would there be in doing this?

I wouldn't know where to stay or what to do there and catching buses or taxis would be problematic as most drivers in Sichuan can't speak English. I also don't like hanging around bars nor going to restaurants, I'd far prefer to be out hiking somewhere in the countryside. So unless I had a friend in Chengdu who Tina wouldn't be jealous of, unfortunately this idea is out. It was a worthy idea though and I appreciate you mentioning it. (y)

#2015-12-18 22:52:58 by anonymous14299 @anonymous14299

Barry, good article and lots of information as well as your own personal views. I as a person who is considering the move to China myself find yours and Paul's information valuable. I do tend to disagree with some of the things you have said...I find that in my travels to China so far it is not a few people but most people including women who spit in public, as well as most people with a cellphone scream in to it. It is because their environment is so loud all around them that they just yell anyways.

I have been to China 4 times now and I have only had 1 cab ride where the driver was yelling into "her" cellphone, I have had a male cab driver yelling at all the other drivers lol just like the west lol

I have found most Chinese people quite friendly when one on one and quite accommodating to my attempts to speak Mandarin...the women more so than the men but still manageable.

I hate Charbucks as much as the next person but John has a very valid point.

If Tina wont move to Australia to be with you then your choices are live in China with her, travel back and forth or end it...I hope she comes back to Aussieland to experience t again so she gets a better idea of life in Western country, so in 4 years when she retires she can make a much more informed decision.

By the way my Chinese gf wants me to live in China, she does not want to live in my country, hence my looking into moving to China..:)

#2015-12-19 08:44:12 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

Wow Barry!!! Long blog mate!

Interesting stuff you have written here but in the main, I reckon I have to go with most of John’s views.
Most of the things you mention (the bad side of China), regarding car horns, spitting, ‘bean-can-man’ on his phone etc etc are all 100% true and as you know, I have covered these topics in my PoC blogs of late, so they are obviously not isolated to any particular city in China.
I’m also happy that you agree with my most recent ‘moan’ about Chinese women and their ridiculous stereotype of Western men being ‘male sluts’ and the fact it’s easier to find a Chinese woman when we are living in our home country, than it is in China!

That said, I want to make some ‘constructive criticism’ regarding your blog. Even cynical bastards like me often subscribe to the ‘everything-happens-for-a-reason’ nonsense, and maybe there is some truth in that, but let’s take a step back for a moment and compare your current situation to mine - as we are both westerners living in China, doing the same type of job.

As human beings, we become complacent. It doesn’t matter WHERE in the world we live, we quickly adapt to our surroundings and then it’s easy to focus too much on the things we DON’T like, instead of the things we do like.
You KNEW what you were getting into when you moved to China to be with Tina. You are essentially in a rural area where other foreigners are non-existent, so you may as well be isolated and alone. No-one there speaks English simply because there is no need for them to learn it.
You have quickly come to rely on Tina for just about everything - not healthy in my opinion. The first time you guys have a row and she has a ‘Chinese tantrum’, you are f*cked!
This, coupled with your inability to communicate with the locals, now has you focussing on all the ‘bad things’ about China and finding it difficult to embrace the better things.

In John’s usual ‘first response’ to this article, he was talking about Shenzhen. A lovely city (in my opinion) but with 25 million people it has the ‘hustle-and-bustle’ that you want to avoid, so your city and SZ are literally at opposite ends of the proverbial scale.

Maybe I dropped lucky when I found myself in my ‘quaint-little-village’ of only 4 million people? It’s not too small and not too big. There are quite a few other foreigners here so I can go and ‘play’ in western company if I so desire and it’s not too difficult to find someone who speaks English (thought they are mostly students)

Of course, I have to endure the horns, the flob-god worshippers, the bean-can-men and all the other things you bemoaned, but there’s enough here for me NOT to focus on that stuff so it doesn’t drive me crazy.
OK, so I can speak some Mandarin. I’m not fluent by any stretch but I know enough to get-by and to keep myself out of ‘trouble’, so to speak, but there are many westerners in my ‘QLV’ who speak as much mandarin as you do, and they have no ‘issues’.

I don’t know HOW you are going to ‘swing-it’ mate, but my advice right now is to get OUT of LeShan and go find a teaching job in a larger city. There are plenty of places with a similar population to where I am - places where I believe you will feel much more comfortable. Don’t give up on China just yet mate. You’ve had a bad start, even if it was for the ‘right reasons’

#2015-12-19 16:54:01 by Barry1 @Barry1

@anonymous14299

"my Chinese gf wants me to live in China, she does not want to live in my country, hence my looking into moving to China."

Thanks for the interesting comments, Anon14299.

Your girlfriend is similar to Tina, they both prefer to reside in their homeland, rather than emigrating to a Western country. And who can blame them?

This means though that the man needs to live in China. This is fine if you can speak Mandarin, but not recommended by me for a long term stay if you can't speak the language. You're simply always feeling out of the loop and are missing out on so much trivia and events that are occurring around you. Seeing the rainbow yet not being able to fully appreciate its rich colours.

I have a couple of ideas about this, that I'll be discussing in my next article. So I won't say too much now. I certainly do hope you'll provide some ideas or feedback on what I write next in this forthcoming blog, that you already have touched upon in your current comment.

Cheers mate. (y)

#2015-12-19 16:56:45 by anonymous14302 @anonymous14302

I could relate to what you wrote about with learning chinese mandarin. I found a very good online course and was happy with my progress but also stumble at the tones. No matter how my wife tries to correct me I am tone deaf, lol.
So I have halted at the moment but refuse to say I have quit. I'm pretty sure I haven't quit.
If anyone intends to stay in China for a year or more it is crazy not to learn some basic communication skill. At the moment I am only here part of the time.
I am constantly frustrated at being dependant on my wife to communicate for me. I hope things change for the better for you.

#2015-12-19 17:11:52 by Barry1 @Barry1

@paulfox1

"You are essentially in a rural area where other foreigners are non-existent, so you may as well be isolated and alone. No-one there speaks English simply because there is no need for them to learn it."

Yes Paul, your words are dead set correct. You're basically agreeing with John that I should go to a more populous area where English is more common, where a greater sense of camaraderie can be experienced with fellow Westerners.

You also brought up an interesting point:

"You have quickly come to rely on Tina for just about everything - not healthy in my opinion. The first time you guys have a row and she has a ‘Chinese tantrum’, you are f*cked! "

This is true. It's been in my thoughts of late. If Tina and I separate for some reason, I'll be stuck high up a coconut tree with no way to get down. The closest big town to me is Chengdu, a two hour bus ride. So I'm pretty well isolated here unfortunately.

"I don’t know HOW you are going to ‘swing-it’ mate, but my advice right now is to get OUT of LeShan and go find a teaching job in a larger city."

I think you're right, Paul.

But the big questions remains tantalisingly unanswered.

How do I swing it with Tina, who needs to stay employed in her little home town of Shawan for at least another four years? (sweat)

#2015-12-19 17:20:33 by Barry1 @Barry1

令人遗憾的是文章不能翻译成中文。有些中国女士可能对它有兴趣,如果西方男士选择住在中国,他将面临的困难局面。

I find it both interesting and surprising that at the time of writing, well over 100 people have read this article so far and not a single person has asked what the Chinese writing at its beginning means.

Unless all the viewers can read Mandarin? Perhaps I'm the only ignorant dummy here who cannot easily decipher Chinese chicken scratchings?

Well anyway, if no one is curious or gives a damn, I won't bother revealing what it says! :x

#2015-12-21 05:43:31 by paulfox1 @paulfox1

@Barry1

'I find it both interesting and surprising that at the time of writing, well over 100 people have read this article so far and not a single person has asked what the Chinese writing at its beginning means.'

I'm not sure about other people Baz. but I just hit the 'English' button in (blue) underneath your comment, and lo-and-behold.........

#2015-12-21 14:10:21 by Barry1 @Barry1

@anonymous14302

"I found a very good online course and was happy with my progress but also stumble at the tones. No matter how my wife tries to correct me I am tone deaf"

Welcome to the harsh reality of learning Mandarin!

The tones are indeed very difficult to master. Yet they need to be pretty close to perfect in order to speak fluently. This takes (according to the US State Dept) in excess of 2000 hours study PLUS then needing to live in China for a few months to practice and consolidate the learning.

Mandarin is thus doubly difficult for a Westerner to learn compared to relatively simply languages such as French, German, Dutch, Spanish, Portuguese, etc.

You also said,

"I am constantly frustrated at being dependant on my wife to communicate for me."

Thank heaven that I'm not alone out there. It's good to know that I'm not an isolated case in my continual feelings of language frustration.

There's a YouTube clip of Kevin Rudd in his capacity as Australian Prime Minister, giving a speech in Mandarin. Mr Rudd had previously been recognised as an accomplished speaker of Chinese. Yet on this occasion,Rudd couldn't quite pronounce every word correctly and he was shown swearing and cursing at his botched attempts.

The point being that if even a highly intelligent, well regarded Chinese speaker can become frustrated at the difficult language, where does this leave all the rest of us?

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