Learn a new language, they said. It will be fun, they said. Well, it is fun for the most part, when you actually understand the language and can hold a sensible conversation with someone, but Chinese is a little more complicated than that. For one, there are multiple Chinese dialects out there. You might be learning Mandarin in school, but you’re speaking a different dialect at home, so you might not be fluent at both. Whether you’re from a Chinese school or you’ve taken Chinese language classes before, here are some struggles that every Chinese student has probably experienced.
1. You pronounced words in the wrong intonation
There are 5 different intonations in the Mandarin language. It might be easy to tell them apart on paper, but it’s a different matter when you’re actually speaking it because there’s a chance that you will mix them up. You either end up speaking gibberish because your pronunciation changed the meaning of the words, or you just sound really angry because you pronounced everything in the fourth tone.
2. You don’t know the simplified equivalent of a traditional character or vice versa
Some Chinese schools only teach you the traditional Chinese characters, leaving you to fend for yourself in the world of simplified Chinese. So when the situation calls for you to read or write in simplified form, it feels like you’re learning a completely new language. You have to manically consult Google Translate even though you’re only reading a food label, and you often find yourself wondering why certain characters even need simplified forms when they’re already easy to write.
3. You got frustrated that there’s no simplified equivalent for a complicated word
The perks of the simplified form is that it makes writing and remembering characters so much easier, and yet there are still some complicated characters that don’t have simplified forms. Yes, I’m looking at you “饕餮”, along with other words that I might be forgetting at the moment.
4. You had to communicate with people who are fluent in Mandarin
There are times when people assume you are fluent in Chinese because you come from a Chinese school or you’ve taken Mandarin classes, and you might be able to get away with asking basic questions and replying with “是” all the time, but when someone starts talking to you in fluent Mandarin, you either can’t understand what they’re saying or you don’t know how to answer them.
5. You know the word, but you don’t know how to write it
Ah yes, you’re able to sensibly articulate your thoughts for the first time, but once you try to put it down on paper, you end up staring into space because you realize you know how to pronounce the word but you have no idea how to write it. This is where Pleco would come in handy, but you don’t always have access to that, especially during tests. There’s also the case where you know how to write a word, but you used the wrong “部首” and now it’s a different word.
6. Someone: “What does this word mean?” You: *sweats*
More often than not, your non-Chinese speaking friends would ask you the meaning of random Chinese words found on packaging or menus, which makes you panic momentarily and forget every Chinese word you’ve ever learned. There are also rare occasions when they would ask you to read Japanese characters because they assumed it was Chinese.
7. You’ve tried to watch C-dramas without subtitles
And then you lost track of what’s going on because you barely understand what they’re saying. Don’t worry, you’re not becoming bye-lingual (meaning a bilingual person who is losing vocabulary in both languages), because different regions have very different accents, so it doesn’t always sound like the same language even if they’re all speaking Mandarin.