Pieces of my world

Thursday, October 19, 2006


Ni hao ma? Wo hen hao

Returned from Mandarin class. It's two hours straight, rushes along at breakneck speed and boy does it kill my head. My mind aches from the onslaught of information. Conversely I'm enjoying this fast speed too. It's a challenge. It's bringing back memories of my start in French though. Now I just take it for granted. It's an offhand "oh yeah, I'm studying French at university". I take it for granted that I can speak full sentences or that sometimes I don't even have to translate in my mind- I just think and speak French before I even think of English; when I look at an object and see 'le feu' instead of 'fire'; 'la glace' instead of 'mirror'; 'le bureau' instead of 'desk' (that doesn't happen that often, but it's a real confidence booster when it does). I'd forgotten, though, how long it took me to accomplish this semi-fluent stage (I say semi-fluent because I haven't lived out in France...yet, give me two years and I should be out there on my year abroad!!) Learning Mandarin has taken me back to the days where instead of proferring forth suggestions in French and being able to fully understand the tutor, I used to look down at the desk, my guts churning, hoping, really hoping that I wouldn't be asked a question. When I had to speak, I would be tongue tied, watching the clock, willing the fifty minutes by until the lesson ended, and I would be out of there like a rocket, breathing a sigh of relief that the ordeal was over. If you'd asked me then, I would have said "Do a degree in French? No WAY!! I'm dropping it as soon as I can!" I looked at my teachers and thought Gosh you must be mad to like grammar and verbs and to have put yourself through such torment. Are you a masochist??? Then I don't know what happened. Something just 'clicked' and I discovered that I did have a capacity for languages after all. (I've never learned to like grammar but) French actually interests me. I like the sheer poetry and metaphorical sentences; the way the lines run; the way the words feel on my tongue. I like the drama of the language (unrestrained in a way tha English is not) and, if I'm honest, being able to brag to people that I am a linguist and speak French at them in a way that makes them go 'wow' and satisfy my (wretched, often terribly inflated) ego.
Mandarin though is different. I don't cringe inwardly as I did with French. Maybe this is because I have been through the language thing once before and this time I understand that it isn't going to be easy in the beginning, but when it 'clicks' and I start to think fluently in the language it's all worth it. On Durham University Open Day I went along to an Arabic taster session, because I've been thinking of picking up a third language for a while (Italian was my other choice, but as my mother rightly pointed out, I can teach myself that so why not go for something more exotic, more challenging?) And I hated it. Hated. I felt like I did at the start of my French quest, all over again. Looked down at the desk, praying the teacher would pass me over. Watched the clock and the minutes tick excrutiatingly by. So I thought again. Signed up for classes at the Language Centre (ie: extra, not part of my degree of English French and History). I thought of Mandarin as a 'go along and see what's it like', but I think, even though it's only been two lessons, that I'm in it for the long haul...
Whether I will be saying that in a couple of weeks when the fun really starts and I'm collapsing from information overload (we're already onto full sentences: "Is this a female toilet? Where can I find a female toilet?" (Don't ask me to put that into Pinyin) Already! Sentences! In the SECOND lesson!!) is another matter...


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