Alright, so for today's post, I want to share a little of my experience learning Mandarin with you. When I first came to Taiwan I could only speak three phrases: nǐhǎo你好, nǐhǎoma你好嗎？and xièxie謝謝. That was all. Was I particularly good at communicating with the locals right of the bat? Nope. Am I now? Yep. But it didn't happen over night.
In a few of my previous articles I mentioned that I spent my first year in Taiwan in the harbor city of Keelung. I lived about five minutes from the coast and there was no lack of beautiful scenery. Needless to say it was a big change from Texas! But this post is not about Keelung specifically. It's about learning Chinese! Living in Keelung was, in my opinion, essential to my acquisition of Chinese. The reason for this is quite simple. In a big international city like Taipei, people are used to dealing with foreigners and it is completely possible to get around solely speaking English. This is not the case in the countryside. Though many people I came into daily contact with in Keelung very likely could speak a relatively decent amount of English, they simply lacked the confidence to speak in English with a foreigner (though of course there are exceptions, I'm just making this generalization to get my point across).
So what did I do? Well, I got on Tealit.com and found myself a tutor and made the trek out to Taipei twice a week to learn with a native speaker, one-on-one. But as I lived in Keelung, the lessons didn't end after my classes finished, I went out and made a point to try and converse with the local people as much as I could(be it ordering food at a restaurant, or just trying to chat up my neighbors). Was it easy in the beginning? Heck no, but I kept trying and within three months or so my conversational ability was decent, though certainly lacking in many areas.
After having lived in Taiwan for around eight months, I met my fiancé and saw a sudden improvement in my Chinese almost overnight. It's really convenient having a walking, breathing dictionary with you, though she might not agree! Anyway, after we'd been together for a while and my contract was up with my school, I decided to move to Taipei and study Chinese intensively at NTNU for a semester. I took a trip to Thailand to do some sightseeing and switch over to a student visa, then I came back and took the university's placement test, which consisted of a reading comprehension and speaking portion. I scored very well on the speaking test, but since I hadn't practiced much reading or writing my first year, I did considerably worse on this portion. Still, my speaking was proficient enough that I tested out of the first text book, and half of the second. I want to make it clear that I am not bragging, I just had the benefit of living in an environment very conducive to learning conversational Mandarin.
After my semester as a student, I once again started teaching English, and continued my Mandarin studies independently. I've made a lot of progress over the last five years, but I'm still learning new phrases all the time. Which brings me to the point of this post, I am working on a FREE Mandarin course that I will be starting to upload very soon here on my blog. My approach to teaching/learning is different from the popular method of memorizing grammar rules and sentence patterns. This was never the best approach for me, and my philosophy has developed over the past five years, but you can start benefitting from it immediately! I'll be making updates on the status of the Language Lab in the weeks to follow, so please bear with me for the time being and of course, I'd love to hear any suggestions you have for how this program can work best for you. I'll also be posting tips on how to improve your Mandarin that I have learned through my own experience. Gǎnxiè感謝大家！