A journey of (at least) 800 characters begins with “Ni Hao”…

Back to another never ending tale: The lengths a writer/author will go for research, authenticity, joie-de-vivre: I’ve restarted a journey that I’ve failed several times over – a slow boat to China – that begins with “Ni Hao”…

Click the map for Chris Lonsdale’s 2013 Tedx talk in which he outlines how he aced Mandarin in 6 months, his ‘brain soaking’ method and more…

Week one of self-taught Mandarin is complete. Avid readers may recall that I’m learning the lingo. This is a more concerted effort after (too) many fumbled attempts over the years (decades). I’m more confident this time round as, to borrow a linguist’s jargon, I’m ‘brain soaking‘…

I prefer to re-dub this brain bathing. Either way it’s a pragmatic approach: a diverse, diligent, daily immersion into the languages, peoples and cultures of your choice. So I’m blending a free, structured webinar series by Coursera, other randomised video lessons found on YouTube, some general reading for learning tips from various bloggers and websites, and lots (and lots) of audio…

Big audio dynamite

Into my fifth decade, I feel it’s safe to (at least) propose that one of my favourite ways to learn (perhaps the favourite method) is through audio. One of the free podcasts, Dim Sumdimsum.Capturesuggests that by nailing around 800 characters any learner will satisfy the goal (my goal) of adequate, conversational (Mandarin) Chinese. Hmm.

A brief recce threw up some far more crazy claims –learn Mandarin in 2 days, etc– and these seemed to confirm in my mind that a goal of some conversational Mandarin by the end of this year is, to use the well known acronym, ‘smart’.

So how about week one? Learning Mandarin is, like so many things, a microcosm of life, and of learning: the initial amusements (yes, plural)… that smirk, all too soon drooping once it dawns on you that the road ahead is steep and long… the weird embarrassment at your clumsy voice box-tongue combos in search of mimicry… the seeming absence of any connection between practice and memory, and so on.

I am partner-less in a three-legged race. Yet I am bound by my commitment – despite feeling direction-less, dazed, dumb. Indeed, even my humble learning rate of ‘6 characters per day’ has proven, evidentially, hard to achieve let alone maintain. These and other realisations of week one outweigh any actual character-learning.

The brutal truth: I did not hit my target of 42 characters for week one. I got perhaps half of that… yet I got so much more. I know more about correct pronunciation, common usage, cultural tips. I know how I failed on all of those previous attempts to learn this language – and I know how to succeed this time around.

“Ni Hao”. To be continued.



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