The struggle of learning Mandarin Chinese…

By Roopa Hathi (Hong Kong Polytechnic University, Hong Kong).

你好很抱歉, 中文有趣

Hello, I am very sorry, I have been very busy! I study Chinese, It is very difficult.. but also very interesting!

So my time at Hong Kong Polytechnic University is shortly coming to an end, and I have absolute no idea how this has gone this fast!

I have been stuck down recently with 3 mid term exams, 3 presentations and 4 reports! And also the focus of my blog entry today- my Level 2 Mandarin Chinese final!

I am sure those of you looking to come to Hong Kong to study, are most likely wanting to learn a bit of Mandarin Chinese? It is an extremely valuable language to understand and know, and I strongly recommend trying to learn it, I have met many working people from top companies in HK, in many different fields; and they have all strongly suggested trying to get a grasp of the language! Not only will it increase your employability a little bit, it will also give you an appreciation for learning a new culture, and to be honest a completely new set of words, meanings and way of speech!

In semester 1, I began “Level 1 Elementary Chinese” and initially I was not prepared at all for how difficult it was going to be! I had prepared myself for learning something like French or Spanish, which most of us have had experience of in secondary school!

So we began with learning the sets of tones, which are as follows:

Tone 1- ā
Tone 2- á
Tone 3- ǎ
Tone 4- à

Next, we learnt what they call “pinyin” which is the language with the English Alphabet, and this combined with the tones on vowels; would be the basis of learning the language!

At first you think, oh this is fine- all i have to remember is some english words and the correct tone mark! However, there is no logical relationship between and english word and its mandarin translation, and no logic behind which tone amounts to which word- and this is the basis of everyones confusion!
If you get the one wrong on a word, it can mean something completely different!
For example “ma” with no tone, is a question word which you would use at the end of a sentence to denote a question; however “mǎ” with the third tone, means “horse”; so you can get an idea of how strange it is to learn! 

Further to this, the next stage of learning Mandarin is the characters. Pinyin was only created in order to ease the process of learning the language, and real Chinese people use characters as their alphabet. I previously mentioned how there is no logic between english and pinyin, but the logic between english, pinyin and characters is completely non existent!  We were briefly introduced to the characters, and I was able to recognise a good 20-50 characters if I really tried hard! But it was completely about recognition rather than fully understanding it!

The first semester consisted of learning fairly basic things about yourself, your home country, your family and friends, and your occupation and after two written exams, two listening and three speaking, I came out with a C+ which I was more than happy with!

Second semester, I was debating whether I should continue learning due to the stress I went through with learning in first semester! But, I decided to accept the challenge, and knew it would be beneficial and somewhat rewarding to feel like I have got to grips with one of the most difficult languages in the world! So I took Level 2 Elementary Chinese- which to no surprise was 10000 X more difficult than level 1!!!

We jumped straight in, no recap of what we learnt the semester before- and my class was full of new incoming exchange students, who had previous experience of learning the language. It is safe to say that I felt like the stupid one from the group- I could just about translate the pinyin, let alone read and translate a whole paragraph of characters! I became extremely worried about my exams, which were entirely in characters! However, the support offered from the teachers and language department is what made me want to continue! They understand how difficult it is for us, and assign is with a “buddy” who you can meet up with, and they will tutor you and answer any questions that you have.

To me this was one of the most significant aids in learning Chinese, as learning from a local person on a more personal one to one level really helps!

The topics covered are much more in depth, from eating and drinking, social activities, dates and years, ordering a taxi, buying a house, numbers up to 1000, animals, illnesses, shopping and going on holiday! So as you can see, quite a big jump from level 1 to level 2! The majority of lessons were entirely in characters- with fears of failing.. I devoted at least 30 mins- 1 hour a day to writing out over and over again until I remembered. I made in total 280 flashcards of sentences, grammar patterns, characters and English meanings!

My final exam went fairly well, with a 1.5 minute talk about a randomly chosen topic, 30 question Q and A, listening, writing and reading exercises, I feel pretty happy with my performance and my understanding for the language!

我要和咖啡- I want to drink coffee!

我的生日是,一九九三年, 六月, 二十八号。 我 有 一个 聚会, 你想不想去?My birthday is on the 28th June, 1993. I am having a party, do you want to come?

现在, 我很好, 可是 我  头疼。 Now, I am feeling very good, but my head hurts!

This has certainly given me a new appreciation and admiration for Chinese students! They manage to learn this language, and sometimes Cantonese also, as well as English and it is admirable that they are able to study in English which is not at all their mother tongue, and I can imagine they find the illogicalness difficult to understand from their end also!

Overall, I am really proud that I will be able to add “Level 2 Chinese” onto my academic transcript, and CV, and be able to talk about it in job interviews! I have also decided to undergo Manchester “LEAP” courses in Mandarin Chinese upon my return to Manchester in final year! Its a program the university runs allowing students to pay, or spend their optional credits on learning a language! Unfortunately, I only just found out about this, but I wish I had known in first year so that I could have begun learning then! But better late than never!!

In a non-educational sense, the social life here is as good as ever! From going out at least twice a week, I have taken trips to Thailand, Penang and Kuala Lumpur so far this year! I am planning two weeks of travelling once my exams are over on the 15th May with a bunch of friends, hoping to do Beijing and some other parts of Mainland China which I am extremely excited to see!! (perhaps I will be able to interact with the locals a little bit!). After this travelling period I will (thankfully!!) be returning back to Hong Kong, because I have managed to secure a summer internship here, wooo!!!

I will be staying until August 15th, with a few friends and family visits, and 21st birthday celebrations, I hope that I have a great summer set out for me!

I hope that this post has helped you to understand the challenges of learning Mandarin Chinese, it is extremely beneficial for employment and I strongly suggest learning it! If you like a challenge, this language is definitely right for you!

Roopa x

One thought on “The struggle of learning Mandarin Chinese…

  1. That’s awesome that you learned some Mandarin! Good job! 加油!

    Noticed an error on your part: 我要和咖啡- I want to drink coffee!
    Should be: 我要喝咖啡!
    和 means: with, and. 喝 means: to drink.

    I’m surprised you learned Mandarin rather than Cantonese in Hong Kong though. 🙂 But then again, Mandarin is much more useful.

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