I don’t know near enough Chinese. I wish I had started studying Mandarin earlier. According to one of our guest speakers, an American who has become fluent in Mandarin, it takes 10 years or 10,000 mistakes to learn Mandarin. I’m okay with making a lot of mistakes, so I’m hoping it’s a little faster then 10 years.
I cannot thank my professor, Tian Renner, enough for what few phrases she was able to drill into my head during our brief trimester together. The first night, when 2 girls and I went out to dinner, we were surprised to find that many of the restaurants near our hotel did not speak any English. One girl was vegetarian and one only wanted rice. Luckily, I knew how to order both of those! I was feeling confident, successfully navigating one dinner.
That confidence had definitely waned after two weeks in China. In Shanghai, confused cab drivers yelled at me. In Shenzhen, cab drivers literally rolled up their window because they didn’t know where I wanted to go. In Guilin, I paid much more then I should have a few times and on three occasions ordered food by praying since I didn’t know what it was. I just hope I didn’t eat horse, a supposedly common item in that region. In Beijing, it took 30 minutes to get my money back from a deposit on a metro card.
That being said, my Mandarin may have improved throughout the trip. I heard more then I expected. I began to understand what people were saying back to me. However, when I spoke to people in Mandarin, they assumed I was fluent and I was treated to a fast barrage of words I didn’t understand. So, eventually, I started hiding my Mandarin, only using it when necessary because I was trying to avoid assumptions. When I did use it with Chinese speakers who understood some English as well, they always complimented my pronunciation, so at least I got that right.
I think understanding a little bit here and there, combined with reading body language, I was able to get by. I know I have a long way to go before I will be fluent, and I wish Pepperdine offered a secondary Mandarin course, but these experiences have given me faith that over time (maybe 10 years?) I’ll get it right. I can’t wait to continue learning this beautiful melodic language.