Uphill Battles: Learning Putonghua as an Adult

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.
i’m not sure why, but i find the “Strike While the Iron is Hot” thing in a lesson book endlessly hilarious

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.

On a positive note, the meager grammar involved in the language (in comparison to English, anyway) is beautiful, shimmery, silver lining against the pronunciation aspects. It’s so much more straightforward than English grammar and sentence construction, and I cannot imagine the added difficulty of learning that degree of grammar along with everything else.

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