After reading Part 1 and taking the time to learn the things in Part 2, you’re ready to start trying to use Mandarin in the real world. If you live near a Chinatown or have the ability to spend time in China or Taiwan, that’s a great idea. But, if you’re like most people and are tied down with family and work obligations, you’ll need to find other ways to make the vocabulary you picked up useful and become a better cleantech advocate.
Listening Comprehension & Speaking
I learned Mandarin in 2004. Back then, I was Mormon and I signed up to be a missionary. I started out with a 12-week language and religious training program in Utah, which basically taught me what I shared in Part 2 (grammar rules, pronunciation, and a bunch of words). Then, they stuck me on a plane to Taiwan to go spread the good word and what not. I thought I was ready to hit the ground running and be the best there ever was. After all, I’m a quick study and picked up a LOT of words.
But, reality set in pretty quickly after the landing. When I walked off the plane and into the terminal, I ran into a masked man with some sort of gun looking thing, and he was standing with two cops. He said a bunch of stuff really fast and I didn’t understand him, and both him and the cops approached me, boxing me in instead of trying to explain what they were doing. He pointed the thing at my forehead and pressed the button while I squinted, expecting a paintball or something. “98.6 degrees,” the man said, in English, followed by laughing from the cops and the health guy.
I had been pranked. I could move on, and my head wasn’t harmed. Phew! SARS had recently caused a lot of trouble in Taiwan, and they were taking everyone’s temperature. Why didn’t I understand the man’s simple request to take my temperature? After all, I had just spent almost three months studying! I’m better than this! How did I get pranked? (My exposure to a pandemic response, including things like masks and health checks, made COVID a lot easier to process later, though)
Things got worse for me as I started talking to other people around Taipei. At first, I was totally lost. But, I started hearing a word here and there that I knew. Then, a few more. It turned out that knowing words doesn’t mean you will know them at full speed in a real conversation. The only way you can start doing that is by listening to people speak, seeing their speech in context, and making your brain do the work of putting all of this together. It got better.
I didn’t stick with the whole missionary program, as I had some serious issues with Mormonism that I hadn’t figured out. Being LGBT and intersex in a church that’s non-accepting and has rigid gender roles, doing a 12-week Jebus camp program, and then focusing on the religion all the time just wasn’t great for my mental health and I ended up needing to go back home.
But, I didn’t give up studying Mandarin. I wanted to eventually go back to China or Taiwan on my own terms (something I haven’t gotten around to yet). The local university had a Confucius Institute, Chinese language courses, and plenty of other opportunities to learn and get to know people from the PRC. I also took up watching movies and TV shows in Chinese with subtitles, and made a lot of progress that way.
I share all this to point out that you don’t have to have access to places where Chinese is spoken to keep learning. You just have to be creative and use technology, like anyone trying to be a better cleantech advocate does.
I’ve known a number of people in El Paso over the years who learned English without any schooling or study. How? They started watching TV in English after work. Seeing the language spoken in context by native speakers gave them the ability to put it all together just like you would in person. So, even as adults, they picked up the language just like we all picked up our first languages as babies. But, you’ll have a basic foundation to build on, and learn even faster.
High speed internet and things like Zoom give us the opportunity to practice speaking, too. Duolingo has many cheap and free events you can attend on the computer to sharpen your skills and clean up your errors. Twitter spaces are popular with Chinese speakers (despite the fact that Twitter is banned in China). Facebook is very popular in Taiwan these days, and there are groups there that can help.
Finally, Work on Writing To Be A Better Cleantech Advocate
You probably noticed that I haven’t talked about writing yet. Grammar, vocabulary, and learning words (including reading characters) doesn’t mean you’ll know how to write any of them. I saved this for last because it’s not as important as being able to speak, listen, and read. Why? Because you’ll already be able to type using Pinyin. Once you add the language to your computer or smartphone, you can just type the word out and pick the right character from a list.
But, it’s still handy to be able to know how to hand-write, so that’s probably something you’ll want to study once you get a bit of a grip on the other things. There are practice books, much like kids use to learn to write English, that you can buy. There are also apps, like Skritter, that can walk you through learning stroke orders. You can also use Skritter to help learn vocabulary, so feel free to mix this in earlier in your learning process if writing the characters interests you. With a touchscreen and a digital pen, you can practice without having to get a bunch of paper and other supplies.
Another thing you can do to practice is set up Chinese handwriting recognition on a touchscreen device. I can’t give instructions for every kind of device, but directions to set this up are readily available on Google and YouTube. Being able to jot down a character you see as best you can enables you to find their meaning if you can’t copy and paste them.
You can also pick up characters to learn from signs and photographs using the Google Translate app. If there’s something you see all the time and want to learn to read and write it, snap a photo of it and import it into the Google Translate app. It will give you the characters to copy and paste, Pinyin, and an English translation you can all use to aid your learning toward becoming a better cleantech advocate.
Featured Image: A Screenshot from Google Translate showing some popular Cleantech terms you could learn to be a better cleantech advocate.
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