Monday, May 28, 2007

Elementary Mandarin

So I've been in Taipei for 3 months, and although I'm not learning Chinese as quickly as I'd like (I still lack the confidence to verbally tell a taxi driver my destination or order in a restaurant by myself, 2 things I did all the time in Korea) I feel like I've passed the first steep part of the learning curve and I'm learning more quickly now. Owning an mp3 player is a big help.

One slightly annoying thing is that practically all of the Mandarin-for-foreigners learning material out there teaches us to speak Mandarin with a strong Beijing accent. Which would be fine if I were in Beijing, but I'm several thousand miles to the south and I've been assured by both Jenna and the locals that people don't talk like Beijingers here in Taipei. There are no huge linguistic differences, but a lot of words that end with arr when pronounced by Beijingers don't sound the same down here. That includes one of the few bits of Mandarin I knew three months ago: ...zai nar? ("Where is...?") Instead of nar I should say nali, and instead of war (to play) I should say wan, and instead of idyar (a little) I should say idien. For some reason my main textbook, Practical Audio-Visual Chinese I (which seems to be the most popular Mandarin for Foreigners book around, judging by the fact that I've seen several people carrying it around the city in the past few months), teaches me to talk like a Beijinger but write like a Taiwanese (or a Hong Konger; they use the same traditional writing system).

Another little criticism of Audio-Visual Chinese I is that it teaches grammar a bit oddly. I still hadn't learned to say "If ______, then ________" or "I have to ________" when the book went into these subtle variations on expressing past time in Chinese that even Jenna was totally unfamilliar with. Jenna may not talk like a native but she speaks perfectly decent conversational Mandarin; if she doesn't know a particular grammatical construction then presumably I don't need to worry about it yet. So I've decided I'm going to plow ahead through A/V Chinese, only glancing at the grammatical explanations but using it to practice listening (I bought the 5 CDs sold as accessories, and I'm glad I did) and to learn vocabulary and characters.

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