Kilometer 23 551: how to survive aka Mandarin deliberations of a linguist
Have you ever heard of language with no grammar? One, with no scary conjugation, declination, exceptions? Where in order to put your words in the past tense it’s enough to add yesterday to the original sentence, no need to worry about irregular verbs? This is how friendly Chinese is.
Well, all right. Usually when something sounds too good to be true, there’s a catch…
Since I spent two months in China and can correctly say four words and then another three, but incorrectly, I may well speak as an expert.
What is it then that puts Chinese in the top three most difficultly acquired languages? Ah, for example this: each word can be pronounced in 4 different intonations. And this: each of these versions may have 60 different definitions, thus, without giving your interlocutor a good context, you have around 4% chance of being understood. Not to mention the writing: thousands of characters shaped nothing like their meaning. Chinese is a language for artists, it requires an ear for music and good line for calligraphy.
The character of the language made its users rather insusceptible to guessing, as a result many gestures or situations which seem unambiguous to you and me won’t be such in China. Can you not figure out that two fully luggaged people dramatically acting out a train, standing by a fence that blocks the way to the railway station and waving their hands in an interrogative way are trying to get to the station? Well, you can. Can you not figure out what we want to purchase when we enter a computer store, show a picture of a keyboard and a sign written in Chinese saying I want to buy a keyboard? Well, you can.
Is there a way to prepare for this linguistic battle? Just develop enough cheek to be able to enter a chef’s storage to show him what you want him to cook and enough distance from yourself needed to act a peeing pantomime that will let a Chinese person guess you’re looking for a toilet.