I want to announce that I have completed my first week of Beginners Chinese language class. I am learning the Mandarin dialect.
If you don't know anything about the Chinese language I will give you a very brief overview of the language. Mandarin is the standard spoken Chinese dialect. (That's why I am learning it-might as well speak the popular one!). The language is broken down into initials, finals and tones. An initial is essentially a consonant and finals are the vowels and tones are the way you say the combination of initials and consonants forming the word.
In English, there are more than 8,000 different syllables, but in Mandarin there are only 417syllables formed by 21 initials(consonants) and 35 finals(vowels). So that makes you think that this language is going to be pretty easy to learn right, only a couple hundred words. Hah, not so easy here comes the game changer. The TONES, or how the pronunciation of the word changes everything. The same word with different pronunciation or tone will change the meaning. Also many of the consonants and vowels in Mandarin are very different to any English sounds that I am use to. So you have to learn how to make new sounds and then learn how the way you say these sounds(the tones) will change the meaning of the word. This is very very difficult.
Take for example , if you say, "Wo wen ni." Depending on the tones you could be saying "I ask you or I kiss you." Clearly that could get you into a little bit of trouble if you ask a stranger that question.
I'm not so sure a beginner's Chinese student will not as some point in time embarrass themselves with a misspoken tone changing an innocent question into an indecent remark.
Why am I learning Chinese?
My fiance, Eileen Hsu, is Taiwanese. She is fluent in both Mandarin, Taiwanese and probably a couple of other similar dialects that I don't even come close to understanding. Her family speaks Mandarin and English is their second language, but at family gatherings they speak their native language and I am sitting there typically stuffing my face with delicious Chinese food pondering if they are talking about me, usually not the case. So it would be nice to be able to build better relationships with them and to do so I will have to learn the language.
Second is for business. Eileen and I are partners in business and a large part of her business comes from being a Chinese speaking real estate agent in Manhattan . Often the phone will ring at the office, the person on the other side is calling from Asia, typically from Taiwan or China and doesn''t speak any English, and I have no idea what they are saying. So just having a very fundamental grasp of the language will allow me to help her with her business.
I'm fairly realistic and don't expect any overnight miracles to occur and wake up in a month and be fluent in Mandarin, but with my combination of going to class and coming home and practicing with Eileen I am very confident that I will learn my fair share of the language fairly quickly. Maybe one day I will be posting my own blogs about being a Chinese speaking real estate agent in Manhattan alongside Eileen.