I Want to Dream in Chinese!

Image published in the New York Times with book review of "Dreaming in Chinese." Click here to read the review!

So I think I’m hitting a wall with my Chinese: I practice and practice and practice, and yet still, when given the option to speak English, I take it.  And I think that if I keep this up, in time, I will merely be speaking English-with-a-little-Chinese, and not a-lot-of-Chinese-with-some-English-every-now-and-then to keep me sane.

So then this NY Times book review came along (thanks, Kim!), of a book called “Dreaming in Chinese,” by Deborah Fallows.  When I read this book review over the weekend, I was struck by the cultural connotations and expectations implicit in each language.  Also, I definitely want to read the book!  And as I did my grammar homework last night, I began to realize that I was reaching the cliff of literal translation– at a certain point, trying to get a direct translation of this phrase, pattern, or grammatical structure is going to obscure and inhibit the sense that I was trying to make by learning the language at all.  Today, we went over the grammar structures, and they began to feel more natural and smooth in conveying a universal meaning, even if we would choose much different English phrases to say equivalent things.

So I think I’m going to take the language plunge and jump off the cliff: go for immersion and speak only Mandarin for 2 weeks! I would only take occasional English breaks for talking to family, and I suppose, blogging (and sometimes working on my other writing).

Initially, a friend suggested this as a “Language Pledge” of 6 weeks or more, but he cautioned that “you have to be at a certain level, or you’ll speak and understand LESS, not more, from sheer frustration.”  But I think it’s time– I am hitting a wall, and I want to dream in Chinese!  I want to start thinking about how I should say EVERYTHING, not just the necessities, like “more shrimp dumplings please,” or “how does your internet work,” or “are these rolls of toilet paper or paper towels?”

As Beckett said: “Fail. Fail again.  Fail better.”  Even if the result is abject failure, the timing is right– in another 1.5 months or so, I will be heavily into my historical research.  Then, to choose language at the expense of content will be a distraction, although continuing my language study will hopefully be a valuable research tool.  But now, if I can fail my way towards better comfort, syntax, and vocabulary, I may just be ready to scale the NEXT wall of comprehension come December.

Also, if I tell people and blog about it, then I can’t wuss out– right?  Am setting the standards pretty low, at 2 weeks. If all goes well, then I’ll extend it another 2 weeks+.

In the meantime, does anyone have any recommendations of Chinese language movies, music, magazines, or other media I can check out???   I’m going to maybe allow myself some English comfort reading, but want to try to immerse myself in Taiwanese media if possible.

And to any other Fulbrighters or expats in Taiwan: want to join me on this mission?



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6 responses to “I Want to Dream in Chinese!

  1. Shuchi

    Awesome! Good luck. You’ll have to regularly update us with how it’s going. And stick with it!!!

  2. Marjorie

    I’d be more than happy to switch languages when speaking with you. Also, I think NCCU has a lot of movies/performances/other cultural happenings that are exclusively in Mandarin. My main recommendation would be, however, to find a language exchange partner and practice your tuchus off with him or her.

  3. Sunny

    Want to schedule an all-Mandarin Skype session with me? :o) Also, I would recommend any of the soapy 8 pm TV shows that we always have. The channels are always subtitled (if you want an opportunity to read as well), and I think in general they speak more slowly and clearly. Good luck Mei Wen!

  4. The first two movies that pop to mind are: the classic, Eat Drink Man Woman (飲食男女), and Cape No. 7 (海角7號). The latter has an interesting mix of Mandarin, Taiwanese, and Japanese languages spoken, and it tells a story set during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan. Also, Korean soap operas (they’re dubbed into Mandarin) are fun and great for learning the language!

  5. Jen

    Good luck with your “Language Pledge!” I shall imagine your English and Mandarin thought bubbles vying for control!

  6. Catalina

    Hey, Kim, how are you doing? Where did it take you this adventure swimming-into-the-Mandarin? I think I’ll start to do the same thing, because I feel I’m not getting results just doing homework, going to class every day and even having language exchange that eventualy let me speak in English. I’ll try first one weeks, just to test myself, then take a little more, like travelling alone or something like that. I want to find the fun of learning Chinese, and not taking is as a routine, otherwise it will drive me crazy

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