Greetings, dear GMF readers! My recent absence has been due to a recent flailing attempt at immersion in Chinese language, a perhaps ill-advised challenge I recently posed here. It has been one week, and somewhere between losing myself in Chinese grammar, abandoning the experiment all together, and losing my mind, I have come to some conclusions about language pledges:
1. Above all, do no harm. (Like the medical oath this means to myself, to others, to the poor electrodes in my brain. Really, it’s just not worth it!)
2. It’s easier to speak Chinese (or your chosen foreign language) to strangers, classmates, or those who cannot or will not speak English to you. It is IMMENSELY tricky to speak it to good friends who do speak English, or in any situation where you really need something specific and important.
3. It is also very difficult to speak solely in a foreign language if you lack certain vocabulary, especially such relevant and vitally important words as “need,” “shoes,” “whiskey,” “valium,” and/or “return flight home.” (Just kidding! And I actually know that last one: 直飛到紐約, I think!) Looking up several unknown words at a time in a dictionary, in public while people are waiting expectantly, can get frustrating real quick!
4. Because of the above two realities, one’s only real hope of speaking only Chinese in daily life is to avoid all social contacts, as well as avoid situations that require talking about things you’ve never heard of.
5. Conclusion: Become a recluse, avoid all of my friends, stay inside and study, and quickly go insane!
Luckily, my instinct for self-preservation trumps the desire for language self-improvement, so when I started to lose my marbles on the 3rd day of the challenge, I happily collapsed into some serious English bingeing. Then I started thinking, perhaps I’m not quite fluent enough and I don’t know enough Taiwanese acquaintances to do this properly. But what will help?
I came up with this idea: putting myself in situations where I need to produce a lot of Chinese speech with no breaks is very stressful. But finding situations where I receive a lot of Chinese speech, music, or text, is not too bad– I am enough of an eager study to try to follow along and “get the gist,” although it doesn’t mean I learn a slew of new characters. So my game plan for Week 2 is as follows:
1. Watch movies in Chinese.
2. Listen to music in Chinese.
3. Go to events, if possible, that are held only in Chinese, and try to understand.
4. Make plans for “Chinese practice time” with friends and acquaintances, outside of regular socializing, so that both people will bring interest and effort to a language practice conversation. Hopefully this will take the pressure off of trying to force a fun gab-session with a buddy into the confines of mutually understood vocab. (So far, I can talk at length about who I am, where I come from, my plans in Taiwan, whether I was recently ill, where I like to go traveling, walking/driving directions, and food. You can imagine the limited conversations!)
5. Watch Taiwanese TV.
I know that some of these activities feel very passive, but in an attempt to stay sane, and yet still surround myself with as much language as possible, I think that I’ve hit a reasonable compromise. So on Friday, my British friend and I found a Mandarin version of The Lion King to watch. It was great! Seeing a movie that is familiar to me in an unfamiliar language is a great place to start. Also, I have scrutinized Zheng Da’s DVD collection, and borrowed 2 American DVDs for the week! Their collection of American films is eclectic, to say the least, but to ensure I’m never at a loss for familiar stuff to watch, it looks like they have all 10 seasons of Friends in Chinese.
Don’t worry, folks, I haven’t lost my sanity to the project of Chinese language immersion. At least. Not. Yet.