I’ve only taken 3 classes so far in Mandarin Chinese but it is clear that it is going to be an incredibly challenging thing to learn, requiring great effort with no room for half-assing it on my part. It’s just so very different from the English language, especially the pronunciation (not that that is probably news to anyone). Things I particularly suck at include, but aren’t limited to:
- Speaking each word distinctly. I have a tendency to mumble my English, especially in a situation where I’m feeling uncomfortable or shy (like, in a class with people I don’t know) so it’s a real struggle for me to even attempt to speak any Chinese in a clear and confident way.
- The ‘j’, ‘q’, and ‘s’ sound group. I have even more trouble with these (I think) than the usually more troublesome gang of ‘zh’, ‘ch’, ‘sh’ and ‘r sounds’. ‘J’ especially, oooooh I hate you j-sound!!
- The words xièxie (thank you) and zàijiàn (goodbye). I just feel like I slobber out xièxie, while in zàijiàn that impossible j-sound strikes again.
- Simply not being too embarrassed to say the words/accent/tones correctly. A lot of the time, it’s not even that I am unable to say the accent/tone correctly; it’s just that I become overwhelmingly self-conscious about sounding like a fool. And then I end up sounding like more of a fool because I can’t get over that embarrassed feeling. I just feel like such an asshole when I try to speak in an accent not my own and I hate doing it.
It’s early days yet, so I’m not letting my troubles with the language get to me. It can be frustrating, yes, but I also know I’ve improved class by class so I don’t feel totally hopeless. I wonder how much easier it would be to learn something like this, that is so utterly foreign, at a younger age? To me it just seems like one of those things that is probably more difficult to learn the older you are.