I studied Mandarin Chinese as an undergrad from 1998-2002 and have been on and off trying to keep it up since. I always struggled with the language and have never had much confidence in it but haven't given up yet. I always try to emphasize that I study Chinese, not speak Chinese. Some people, with the kindest intentions, I know, tell others that I speak Chinese. Word of this inevitably reaches Mandarin speakers which leads to embarrassing conversations where I quickly exhaust my vocabulary and grammatical range. I spoke Chinese most fluently during the semester I lived in Singapore in 2001. I have hired tutors for a few months at a time when I had money and free time (relatively) or had language partners. However, these episodes were usually more review and catch-up for me so I really haven't gone past a certain point in years. If language learning always has its plateaus, you can say that I have been on a very, very long one. I've been really discouraged lately, but I keep trying to tell myself that even if I keep this snail's pace for another ten years, surely I'll be better off than if I give up!
It looks like I'll have some good opportunities here. I will apparently be employed by the newly created International College at the university which is dedicated to language and culture instruction. Most of their new teachers are Chinese and their Thai teachers all speak varying degrees of Mandarin as well. Our school has scores of students speaking the language and a few hundred exchange students from China. Al (with the best intentions of course) told everyone that I speak Chinese so I have already been introduced to several of these teachers and students. My new boss was also really hoping I could teach introductory level Mandarin as well so the other teachers could be free to teach more advanced courses! I'm doing my best to politely decline.
Anyway, it is really good a thing-- I need to get over my nervousness of speaking in Mandarin-- here's my opportunity!
It's about time I move from my internet studying to more speaking and listening, as I really am rusty.
Anyway, if any readers are studying Chinese, check out these sites-- my favorite resources:
Chinese Pod -free 10-15 minute lessons at varying levels, pay accounts gain you access to more study materials.
Yellowbridge - their flashcard database is a great way to structure your character study-- also easy to fit into lunch breaks and put idle time at the computer to good use.
Zhongwen -my favorite online dictionary
Chinese Perapera-kun --an add-on for Firefox, this is a nifty pop-up translator, run over Chinese characters on any website and see instant dictionary translations
Of course, the real test of my ability will be next month, when I spend a few days in Beijing visiting my friends. Yes, I will be there during the Olympics, but I probably will not be attending any events.
I have a serious dilemma with this one. Of course, I would love to go and do have access to tickets through friends but, as my friends and family know, I have been involved with Tibetan organizations in the past and support their bid for autonomy. Although the Dalai Lama is encouraging people not to boycott the Olympics, many other pro-Tibet organizations are, for obvious reasons. Either way, I will be disappointing either Chinese or Tibetan friends, which makes me sad.