In the beginning

This isn’t really the beginning.  My first attempt to learn Chinese was 11 or so years ago, as an undergrad.  After taking one semester of Chinese and auditing the second one, my language skills were still essentially useless.  I could tell people that I had no friends but I had two pencils.  I knew how to say writing brush and national anthem.  However, I could not carry out many basic functions of daily life such as asking for directions to the bathroom, ordering food in a restaurant, or telling a taxi driver where to go.  Over the intervening years, I’ve tried off and on to improve my language level, and I’ve learned a bit about the language from a theoretical perspective, but until a year and a half or so ago, I didn’t actually make much progress in my language abilities.

When we found out we were moving to China, I started taking the task a bit more seriously, and I’ve found that my skills have improved a lot–but I still feel like I’m just starting.  Currently I can carry on basic conversations with very patient people.  I can understand anywhere from 10 to 90 percent of a conversation I’m listening to–but unless I already know what they’re talking about, it’s usually close to 10.  I can usually make myself understood about simple things when I’m forced to do it.  I can read a little and write less.

This isn’t intended to be a riveting first post where I solve all of the world’s problems in a deeply fascinating way.  It’s just here to give you some idea of where I’m coming from.

1 Response to “In the beginning”

  1. 1 jp 吉平 May 19, 2010 at 11:27 pm


    I got an MA in Romance Linguistics, doing a lot of SLA and Minimalist Syntax (back in the day). A couple years ago I moved to China for a job and got pretty discouraged by the instruction and the culture of terrible instruction (“here’s a list of 40 fruits; test on friday; now let’s humiliate you with tone torture…”)

    Anyway I just wanted to write in and say that I’m a fan of your the blog, and I’m watching your linguistic commentary with great interest! –jpv

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