Chinese is hard

When I got here, I was only expecting to have to spend a year in Taiwan to learn Chinese.  I was basing this expectation on my experience in Spain, where the university had a twelve-month program that went from total beginner to pretty darn fluent.  Unfortunately, I forgot to account for the fact that the Universidad de Alicante's program involved taking 15 hours of Spanish class every week.  Since I am currently taking a grand total of 0 hours of Chinese class a week, I am a little behind here.  (I do currently have 5, soon to be 6 language exchanges every week, but those are more to help me practice the Chinese I know, not learn more.)  Also, Spanish uses almost the same alphabet as we do, and there are only a few sounds which are not the same as in English.  So the only thing to really learn is a different grammar (which is actually not that far from the English) and a different lexicon (which contains a lot of similar word roots, making it easy to remember).  Also, my Spanish teachers in Alicante were gorgeous babes.  (This helps more than you might think.)

Then you have Chinese, which: 1) uses thousands of ideogram-characters instead of an alphabet with a sane number of letters (say, for example, 26); 2) has several sounds which do not exist in the English language (which is why they represent them with letters like x and q when transliterating them into English); 3) has a grammar which is about as different from English as it is possible to be and still be a human language ("I yesterday arrive Hong Kong go get-arrive visa." = "I went to Hong Kong to get a new visa yesterday." or "I eat-no-down-go." = "I can't eat any more."); 4) has no words with common roots, except for the very few words which come from English in the first place (massage = "ma-sa-ji" , but bicycle = "jiao-ta-che", which is not pronounced how you think it is); 5) the TONE of the syllables you are saying CHANGES THE MEANING OF WHAT YOU SAY, and does this in an arbitrary manner ("chang" could mean "sing" or "long" depending on the tone, and that's only two of the tones); 6) Even when you get the tone right, many times the SAME SOUND with the SAME TONE has many different meanings dependent on context ("yi", 4th tone, has at least 72 different meanings associated with it); and 7) My teachers (ok, language exchange partners) are gorgeous babes. (OK, so that's the same, at least.) (Well, except for Sean.  He's not much of a gorgeous babe, from my point of view, although his wife may disagree on this point.)

So, the point is, Chinese is hard.  This means I will not be moving permanently back to the US any time soon.  My current plan is to stay in Taiwan for 2 more years, then move to Beijing for a year.  This is assuming that I don't get into the Foreign Service, of course.  If that happens, I could be going back to the US as early as next spring.  Of course, then I'll be posted somewhere else in the world.

In my next e-mail: more complaining about Chinese, and an explanation of what all of those x's and q's are actually for, and why Mao TseTung is now Mao Zedong. (No, it's not because the CIA changed the programming on the computer chip implanted in your brain.) (I mean, they did change it, but it didn't affect the Chinese language any.)

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