Goals, Chinese, and Me

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In my previous posts I talked about good and bad choices as a matter of politics.  My next few posts will talk about choices on a personal level.

I make my best choices when I focus on goals.  To me, the key to both success and happiness is setting and achieving goals.  When I don’t have goals, I lose focus, my life drifts, and I am not a happy person.

My wife and I took a vacation to China in September.  We visited Shanghai, Xian, Beijing, and we took a cruise on the Yangtze River.  I have always been fascinated by China and particularly by the Chinese language.  I knew it was totally different from anything I had encountered before.

To set my languages background in perspective, I went to Hebrew School as a kid and got my Bar Mitzvah.   I can still read the letters but other than a very few words, I don’t have the faintest idea of what any of the words mean.  I also had four years of Spanish in high school and got A’s all the way through.  I was able to understand the Spanish teacher in class very well.  She spoke clearly and distinctly.  I never could understand anybody else.  Basically, my Spanish was next to worthless to me.  I also never liked studying it.  I studied it because it was there, but I never enjoyed it.  I don’t know if it was because of the language itself or because it was the wrong time of life for me.  In short, while I consider myself as intelligent in most areas, foreign languages was not one of them.

I decided it would enhance my trip to China if I learned something of the language before then.  I got Rosetta Stone and was very surprised to find that I actually enjoyed it.  While several of my attempts to speak Chinese drew only blank stares, I did have some successes.  On a gondola ride, several of my fellow tourists were wondering if the the gondolier would sing.  I was able to ask him and he then serenaded us.  I was able to ask when a store opened and learned the magic words to keep over-eager sales people away (Kan Kan which means just looking).  I was also happy when after several failed attempts and some pronunciation assistance from our tour guide Yuan, I was able to get proper directions when I asked where the bathroom was.  I also really had fun trying to read the characters.  I was able to read about 25% of the characters I saw, mostly the common characters but also things like bank and “Don’t feed the animals” at the zoo.

I was surprised at how if I did not use the right tones the native speakers had no idea what I was saying.  I was thinking they would think I talk funny and wrong but they would be able to understand.  I did get a bit of appreciation for for what I must sound like when at a buffet I saw a dish I did not recognize.  I said Zhe shi shen me (What is this?).  The response I got back sounded like Weggee-table, Weggee-table.  I had the blank stare on my face till Sue figured out he was saying vegetable.

I decided to continue my Chinese after I got back.  At Sue’s suggestion, I joined a Chinese  language meetup group off the internet.  The organizer of the group offered tutoring services.  I had looked at tutoring earlier but had not found anything I liked at a reasonable price.  I have now been taking from lessons from her for the last two months and I think it really helps.

I have no expectations of having any major practical use for my Chinese.  I am past the stage in my career where I think it might help me professionally.  I am doing this because it is interesting to me and a challenge.  My goal is to one day be able to converse and read Chinese passably well.   I am not sure if I will ever be capable of fluency, but who knows, maybe.

Now why should anybody other than me care about this?  My studying Chinese led me to a major discovery that has greatly improved my life and I think could help others as well.  I will talk about this next time.

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