Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Wo shi zhongwen xuesheng

I'm taking a Mandarin class and just spent the last hour doing my Chinese homework translating English sentences into Chinese characters.

I used to dread going to Chinese school on Saturday mornings. When other kids were home watching their Saturday morning cartoons, I was sitting behind a desk in a classroom learning to read and write Chinese. This lasted until the 8th grade, which was just about the time of the arrival of the first wave of immigrants from Hong Kong who were escaping the big hand-over to China. For some stupid reason, their parents enrolled them in Heritage Language classes, meanwhile, they already knew how to read and write quite fluently.

The irony of giving up my Saturday mornings at this late date to go back to Chinese school of my own volition has not escaped me. The difference this time around is that I’m listening to CDs and learning Hanyu Pinyin—at least until I recognize all the radicals and am able to read Chinese.

I decided to learn Mandarin, partly because I was bored and wanted to learn something new, and also because I figure it’s a good skill considering the growing importance of China on the world stage. I have no desire to move to China to work or anything…I’ve visited a couple times and it’s so not where I see myself living…but again, who knows?

I’m happy to discover that I’ve retained quite a bit from all those awful Saturday mornings. I didn’t have to cheat and refer to my text too often in translating:

A: Is he your older brother?
B: No, he’s my father.

A: How many older sisters do you have?
B: I have two older sisters.

Of course, translating from English into Hanyu Pinyin is another story since I haven’t been diligent about studying the text and as a result, get the tone marks wrong half the time.

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