Ready to return to the UK
Beijing, 20th of March
The end of the road
Due to the current financial climate and several other key issues, my role as translator in the movie project has come to an end. It now seems that the movie may even struggle to get made, though I really hope it does. Not only does the company have jing1 ji4 wei1 ji1, financial problems, but also some deep rooted management issues. Personally it was still a fantastic experience for me, especially striking up a great rapport with the other Chinese translators and the Hollywood writer and director.
One of the highlights for me was location scouting at the beautiful Yun2 Tai2 Shan1, Cloud Tower Mountain, in Henan province. This was a tian1 tang2, paradise, full of spectacular pu4 bu4, waterfalls, and amazing rock formations.
Now with this project at an end, I find myself ready to return to the UK and spend some time with my family - hopefully they haven't forgotten who I am :) I'm now in the long and painful process of packing and sending boxes back. I now realize just how much junk one man can collected in four years!
Working with Hollywood directors aside, what I'm proud of most during my time in Beijing is my progress with the Chinese language. Every day I feel more and more confident about speaking Mandarin - which gives me a real natural high! Before coming to China I had never studied Chinese, and had only managed to pick up a couple of sentences from a Taiwanese friend. One was how to say "hen3 hao3", very good, and the other was to say "ni3 hen3 piao4 liang", you are very beautiful. I also learnt how to say a couple of zang1 hua4, swear words, just for special occasions! ;-)
There are many ways to learn a language but I found that the best way for me was utilising xian1 dai4 ke1 ji4, modern technology. Very early on I realized that I absorbed most of my Chinese from repetitive listening. So I bought an mp3 player, and would get my Chinese students to record useful sentences in mp3 format. I would then listen to these phrases on a loop when I was at home and literally tried to xie3 nao3, brainwash, (lit. wash brain) myself into learning them. And it worked! It helped that the phrases I asked my friends to record were relevant to my life at the time. I found that some of the text books and their corresponding cassettes would at times bare little relevance to my day-to-day experiences. Learning tailor-made sentences on subjects that I personally found interesting helped no end.
I also found watching Chinese movies and TV dramas helpful as I could always pick up an interesting phrase or two and even some slang - this kind of "street" Chinese was rarely taught in formal classes. There are also several websites that offer excellent learn Mandarin pod-casts which I would listen to repeatedly.
Speaking to patient people
Of course, speaking is vitally important and finding people who were nai4 xin1 de, patient, enough to correct my pronunciation and grammar was paramount to me making any headway. But when studying Chinese in class, I found that my mp3 "brainwashing" technique gave me an extra edge and improved my fluency. I also tried to limit how much time I would hang out with ex-pats, and actively tried to make friends with Chinese people who spoke little English.
Mind your tones
The hardest thing when speaking Mandarin are the tones. Even though I thought I remembered how to say a word, and could even visualise it in its written form, when speaking it aloud my tones would often be incorrect. This would incur laughs from native speakers which really dented my confidence. I still have problems with tones today, but I find that extensive listening can help greatly with this.
Writing Chinese has always been the hardest part of my learning experience, and even now I can still only write a few words in han4 zi4, kanji, Chinese characters. My reading however, is not too bad - and I can easily send and read text messages in Chinese. I even set my phone menu to Chinese language forcing me to learn and improve. At first it was a real pain, but after awhile those crazy squiggles started to become more and more familiar. Personally I think learning to write Chinese would require a life-long effort, and I didn't focus on this aspect as much, which admittedly caused some uncomfortable moments in classes.
I certainly plan to return to China again in the future and continue to learn Mandarin, as it has enriched my life more than I could have imagined. I was 29 years old when I first started this new and intriguing language and never thought I would be able to speak another language apart from English. It's so satisfying to have proven myself wrong!
Editor's note: Chris is writing Chinese words in 'Pinyin', Latin script, using numbers that indicate the tone of the word. Find out more with our course Real Chinese.
Sent by: Chris