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Sunday, April 23, 2006
Back to School
No, not back to work; back to school. We've been taking Mandarin classes on Sunday afternoons. Between Spring Break and Easter, class has been cancelled the last three weeks. It felt like starting over. Three weeks is a long time when you're learning Mandarin. Okay, that's overstating it. There is absolutely no way I will ever be able to hold a conversation in this language. If I can learn a few words, I will consider myself very lucky.

We have a great teacher. He's been in this country for about six years. He has a daughter who is toddler age so he has first hand, recent knowledge of the songs that appeal to kids, etc... He has been so helpful in telling us about China and what to expect there. Jim and I are the only ones there who haven't been yet. The others have already been to China to adopt. One mother has two daughters, the other mother has one daughter and is in process to adopt a waiting child, her son. The other classmate is actually in high school. Her parents adopted from China and are wrapping up the paperchase for their second.

I'm sure it comes as no surprise, but it's a very difficult language to learn. The main reason it's so hard is because it's a tonal language. There are four tones that can be applied to each word. The tones change the meaning. For example, ma can mean mother, or horse, or if added to the end of a sentence it turns the sentence into a question. Ni hao means hello. Ni hao ma means hello, how are you. Also, even if the tone is the same, it can still have a different meaning. Many times you have to rely on the context of the conversation to understand the meaning.

Because of these tones, it's helpful to have a good ear. Today in class, I compared this to my singing. I can hear when the notes are right, and in my head, they sound right, but when they come out of my mouth, it's nothing like the song should sound. Neither is it like Mandarin should sound.

My main goal is to learn how to pronounce words. I would like to be able to call my child by their Chinese name and have it be recognized. It would also be nice to have some reassuring phrases learned. It also never hurts to learn a few things like: Where is the bathroom? I am lost. Can you help me?


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