Everyone Needs a Nose Squeeze

Yesterday my wife and I were walking up the stairs to our fourth-floor aparment (no elevator – what a blessing!). I had to pause outside the door to fish my key out of my bag. While I was doing so, an older guy who lives a few floors up from us was making his way down the stairs. We haven’t seen him in a while, so he was even more excited than usual to see us. He asked, “Where have you guys been? Haven’t seen you in a long time!” I told him that we had been traveling, and that we got home last Thursday. Then he got a shocked look on his face and put his hand on my shoulder. He said, “How’d you learn to speak Chinese?” Then he shook his head, hugged me, stepped back to look at me, and squeezed my nose with his hand. (if that’s a Chinese thing, I’ve never heard of it! I guess my nose is just large and squeeze-able) Signs of progress… It’s what language learners live for… no matter how bizarre!

We are continuing our uphill battle to learn Mandarin. It is coming slowly, but surely. We’re definitely making progress, though of course, not as much as we’d like. We have chosen to focus on the spoken side of the language, and to spend time in the characters in the future. I’ve taken some criticism for that both from Chinese and Americans, but I really think that the ability to converse and preach is more important than the ability to write a letter. Something that helped me make my decision: I regulary see students at our school that have been here for six months, and though they know quite a few characters, they can’t hardly spit out a sentence. None for me, thanks. So our class advances very quickly in dialogue, faster than most.

Everyone knows the characters are hard, but these are probably the biggest challanges to speaking the language:
– Tonal speaking is like brain surgery. There’s only four tones, but it don’t matter how close you get, if you inflect the word wrongly, you’re saying the wrong word! Not a slightly different word, either…
– Sentence structure is yoda-esque. They just say things differently than us. Very few word-for-word translations. Often I know every word in a sentence, but can’t get someone to understand me, because my order is wrong.
– Pronunciation is like yoga for the tongue. There really aren’t too many sounds in Mandarin that are difficult to make (though there are a couple), but sentences have a tendency to arrange a bunch of words together in a tongue-twister-like gauntlet. You can pull a muscle in your tongue if you’re not careful!

So pray for us! God has been really good to us, and we’re usually able to say (most of) what we want! But fluency is our goal, and we’ll keep working until we’re able to communicate effectively and comfortably.

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