I’m Learning!

I just got back from the language lab.  It’s week 2 of Chinese 101. I survived my first quiz. My son says my intonation is getting better.  The writing of characters is getting a little easier.  I am learning.

I have always been afraid that if I tried to study the Chinese language, I would fail.  Perhaps this comes at the hands of trying to pronounce words in the past and being corrected in ways that I couldn’t hear, understand or process.

This would happen a lot with my son.  I would say what I had internalized (a long time ago) in my youth, and inevitably either my articulation or my intonation would be wrong. He’d repeat it in the correct way and I would, in frustration, exclaim, “That’s WHAT I JUST SAID.”

To which he would respond, “No, you said….It’s….”

I would look at him incredulously, and say, “That’s what I said. You just said the same thing twice.  I said that.”

He would look at me, with both pity and frustration and say, “Okay, Mom, that’s what you said.”

But we both knew I hadn’t gotten it right, and we were both somewhat sad and frustrated that I wasn’t learning.

My son was more gentle and patient with me than Mandarin speakers I didn’t know. These people would speak to me first in Mandarin, then, upon hearing my labored attempts to say anything (even, “I don’t understand”) would sigh in frustration (and maybe contempt?) and switch to English.

These experiences made me so nervous to even attempt a Chinese course.

But, as of week 2, I really feel like I’m actually learning the language (little by little), and it’s a huge thing for me.

I’m also learning how to learn with and from my son. Learning pinyin and the differences between the tones (through explanation, practice and not just by ear) has helped us to have a common framework to work from.  He’s been great at acknowledging my progress, excited to quiz me and really proud of my successes.  He also encourages me when I feel overwhelmed and helps me break down characters into radicals so that I can better remember them.

In fact, learning Chinese has been an unexpectedly awesome mother-son bonding experience.  Last week, Nate and I did our Chinese homework together.  We watched the cheesy (he would call them “cringe-y”) Chinese practice videos that accompany my textbook. We practiced the sample dialogue on my way to drop him off at school.  Last night, we discussed the character with the most strokes in the language, which he had already learned about (and written for himself) last year in Chinese school.

I’m only 21 characters into the language, but I’ve already been given a priceless gift through this journey.  I truly am so grateful.

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