Saturday, February 26, 2011

First week of learning Chinese

The first week of learning Chinese has passed. I can count until five and say hello as well as thankyou in Chinese. I am proud but at the same time surprised how long it took me to get this far.

The last language I learnt - apart from a few words in languages on the way - was Indonesian. From 1986 or 1987 I had tuition at university after my law degre. I attended lectures of South-East Asian Studies. Learning a language was part of the course and still is. I had a choice between Thai, Vietnamese and Indonesian then. Indonesian was the obvious choice, as I had travelled to Sumatra and Malaysia the year before and that's where my interest for the area and further studies originated from.

We progressed fast and I remember well the only sentence in our christmas play that, being only two months into the language studies, we presented to surprise our inspiring teacher Professor Bernhard Dahm: "Apakah kaju sudah dipotong Mario? Anak kita kedinginan!". By the way, last year Prof Dahm received the  Dr. Jose Rizal Awards for Philippine-German Cultural Relations.  I ended up learning Indonesian quite easily and later even worked as a junior lawyer in Jakarta. It was a speedy journey studying Indonesian for about two years only.

Another incident is in my mind from around the same time. We used the hot weekends in Jakarta in 1989 for bush walking in the hills. One time we were in Bandung walking down the Tangkuban Perahu, the active volcano just north of the city. I met some French travellers and wanting to speak French with them I was unable to remember any words. Out came only the Indonesian words that my brain must have saved straight on top of the French vocabulary. This has changed by now, more than 20 years later. I think the brain had ample time to sort out the parking in the memory area.

This is the first time I started learning a language in isolation. It is more difficult than I thought and I am lucky to have a school aged boy, who learns that language at school, to be my saviour. He reinforces the little progress I have made and asks me to help him in return as well. Yesterday we went to the beach for sunset and we drew Chinese numbers into the sand.

However, this it looks like I need a more competent teacher and other strategies must be looked at. Still, language learning is fun!

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