Holding my Ground

A month ago, I received a delegation from Yunnan province at my workplace. The Embassy provided an interpreter, but naturally I paid attention to their spoken Mandarin. Nearly two years had gone by since I had, for all intents and purposes, stopped my experiment and had no contact with the language.

How pleased I was, then, to understand many words. Yet what most struck me was how familiar the language sounded. After the meeting, I mentioned to the head of the delegation, through the interpreter, that their Mandarin sounded very standard. He confirmed that it was so. I couldn’t resist venturing a few isolated words in Chinese during the visit, and later, the interpreter told a colleague of mine that my pronunciation in Mandarin was good. I don’t know if he was just being polite or was interested in an internship I had mentioned to him, but it was motivational to get the positive feedback, nonetheless.

The two hours or so with the Yunnan delegation was the fuel I needed to start really watching Mandarin again. I won’t announce dramatically that I’m back (wo hwei lai la), since I’ve done that before and then disappeared again for nearly a year. I hope and expect that this is not just another fitful start. The test will come in a couple of weeks when vacation is over and I’m back to work and back the Law classes.

I have watched Mandarin now about every other day for the past 21 days, for an average of 36 minutes per day.

The 1,000-hour Mandarin experiment is a long, sometimes arduous journey, and I would probably give up entirely if, after nearly two years of very little viewing, I felt that I had forgotten the little that I had learned.

Fortunately, the contrary seems to be true: I have absolutely no contact with Mandarin for several months at a time, yet when I start watching Qiao Hu or one of my go-to Chinese films again, my impression is that my comprehension is about the same as before. Granted, I still understand very little, but the sounds are as familiar and I seem to pick up a similar amount of words and expressions. In other words, though I have gained little ground in the mighty battle to learn Chinese, I seem to have held that ground despite long periods of inactivity.

So, what have I watched so far in this new beginning? Previously, after the 400-hour mark, I had been watching movies with English subtitles far above my planned average. Therefore, when I started the experiment again in July, I decided to watch videos without any subtitles. Of the 12 hours of viewing in July, I watched a couple of hours of Qiao Hu, and the rest was completely different content.

I went into youku.com, the Chinese YouTube, and randomly clicked on an image (since I don’t understand any of the writing). It took me to a Chinese soap opera about the rich CEO of a jewelry design company, a comparatively poor, young female worker at said company, their network of colleagues and friends, and their budding romance. To my taste, it’s mediocre, like any soap opera, but less bad than most. It’s a bit silly at times, rather than offensive, the acting is passable, there are nice visuals, and my friends at chinese-forums.com have confirmed that the dialogue is in standard Mandarin. I’ve watched eleven episodes already, and I find the viewing somewhere between tolerable and amusing, depending on my mood. My girlfriend occasionally watches a bit with me and gets a kick out of it.

I plan to post at least once a month now, instead of once a week as I did in 2014 and 2015. I do hope you’ll check in for updates and leave comments as well.