The Dreams I Once Had in Mandarin

Becoming bilingual was a twisted, unlikely and immersive journey that ended with me as a Mandarin dreamer.

Photo by Joel Naren on Unsplash

Decoding a Language

I have to admit that my Mandarin proficiency even now it nowhere near mastery, but I acquired the ability to do a number of different things using the language. It started with very basic statements. I could then order food, introduce myself, count and barter for goods and hold a basic conversation about the weather, what had happened to me today, and express myself.

From Bricks to a House

Learning a language starts with ‘associating’. You learn from having small bits that you build into bigger bits. The phrases you acquire as a learner give you a certain result. My learning of Mandarin in Beijing progressed like this.

The Key Ingredient

I reflecting on this point in relation to my learning experience in Beijing compared with South Korea. In China, I spent a lot of time working at the school planning lessons and getting to know my Chinese work colleagues and had very few friends who were not Chinese.

A Dream in Mandarin

When I lived in mainland China, I missed New Zealand immensely. I would sometimes call Mum and Dad from halfway around the world, to find myself feeling deceived. I could hear my parents accent, and it didn’t sound normal. Living in China, I had no New Zealand accent speakers to interact with. It was almost as though I had lost my ear for my accent.

The Trick My Brain Played on Me

But that was not the final trick my brain played on me. Sometime later, I returned to New Zealand having spent a year and a half in Beijing. I had not left once. And when I did finally arriving back in New Zealand, it was loud. When I was in China, my ear would jump on any English speakers. They stood out like a ‘sore thumb’.

Before I Return Once More

It has been years since I returned from China. Unfortunately, I have used my knowledge of Mandarin less and less. Sometimes I teach it to the students I have in New Zealand. Sometimes I bump into a Chinese person struck trying to navigate the city. Often though, I do slip in some Mandarin with my partner from Shanghai, although she doesn’t like my Beijing accent much.

Works Cited:

Barker, M., & Buntting, C. M. (2016). How do people learn? Understanding the learning process. In D. Fraser, & M. Hill (Eds.), The Professional Practice of Teaching in New Zealand (5th ed., pp. 23–55). Cengage Learning.

A thoughtful writer, and contributor to Medium.

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