We were getting a lift back from school with a friend the other day when my son asked me how to say 'bag' in Chinese.
"Daizi," I replied.
"What did you say?" asked my friend.
"Daizi. That's right isn't it?"
"No, that's the word for stupid."
Oh dear. I say 'daizi' a fair bit because you have to buy special bags at the 7-11s to put your non-recyclable rubbish in. So I've been asking for the 'garbage stupid' all this time. Luckily the sales assistants have guessed I'm referring to bags and not them (or me).
I actually had the right word in a sense, although I think it's actually just 'dai' in this context, but the wrong tone, which of course in Mandarin makes it the wrong word.
Still, I plough on. I'm nearing the end of Practical Audio Visual Chinese Book 2 and am still resolved to abandon the series once I've finished this book. I'm now finding the mainland pronunciation to be irritating and confusing. I listen to the CDs that accompany the books a lot and I'm aware that I'm training my ear to expect to hear things differently from the language around me. It's a bit like learning BBC English and expecting to hear it in London.
What to continue with, though? In my previous post on this subject I mentioned the DeFrancis Beginner Chinese series, which I'll definitely use, but probably more for reading practice as once again the speakers on the audio tracks have mainland Chinese accents. Another series that has been recommended to me is Far East Chinese, which apparently uses a more communicative approach and teaches more useful language. PAVC leaves teaching the word for toilet to the end of Book 2. I'm so glad I didn't wait around to learn that one.
Other materials have come on the market in recent years that are modelled more on the Western style of education, otherwise known as trying to make things a little more fun. I've got these three texts to practise my reading too:
I'm looking forward to trying out some jokes on my friends, ha ha.
Learning Chinese is a good excuse to watch trashy TV. I've been following the currently airing Taiwanese drama Love Forward (with subs). It has all the ingredients of a popular TV series: comedy, action, romance and tragedy. While blubbing into my green tea, I've found that I'm hearing the language I know in new structures and contexts and picking up the odd new vocabulary item along the way. I also watched Smiling Pasta while in the UK and learned one of my first Chinese words - 'wugui' the word for turtle.
What I really need is live day to day interaction in Chinese, though. Currently I'm limited to things like shouting to the bus driver that I want to get off the bus when he starts to pull away (some people need to learn not to block the exits with their bags, they really do). All of my friends here speak very good English, naturally, as it isn't really possible yet for me to make friends with people who don't speak English. And I'm not working outside the home either, so there are no encounters with work colleagues.
Even my language exchange partner has deserted me. She's now married her foreign diplomat fiance and he's got a post in Palau for three years. Exchange partners are easy to find here, once you've weeded through the young women who have other ambitions in mind than improving their English. I just need to ignore the ones who show coquettish photos of themselves on their advertisements.
So my progress is quite slow. I'm getting better, though. I can understand what people say to me in reply if it's fairly simple. Now I'm at the stage where having a conversation in Chinese is like losing an argument - I can think of something really good to say a few minutes after the opportunity has passed. But I do try. Taxi drivers, security guards, friendly old ladies in the street, I subject all of them to my bad Chinese. I find I do much better if I pretend to myself I'm very fluent and highly knowledgeable.
Confidence is everything.