I remember when I spent my first holiday in China. Preparation for that trip had been going on for a long time but of course I was still nervous. Not so much about the trip itself but how I would communicate with my future parents in law and the rest of the family. The language of choice would be Chinese as none of the family speaks English, or any other language so to say.
I had been going to Chinese language courses for over a year prior to that trip at my university but all knowledge didn’t pass much beyond “ni hao” 你好 and “xie xie” 谢谢. Sure, I have learned more besides those common terms but they quickly left my mind once we arrived in China. As soon as more than one person talked to me it just sounded like an angry beehive and to complicate matters even further they often switched into Xi’an hua 西安话. Thus I was utterly lost during my time there. I had even trouble understanding other basics such as “hao chi“好吃 either due to their insane speed of talking or the local dialect.
Chinese has not gotten any easier for me. Oh no, every day of more studies make my life even harder and increase my desperation with the language. However I reached now a level that I normally have a clue what my in-laws want from me and I can (sometimes) give a short reply which makes sense to them. I am by no means even close to becoming fluent in Chinese but I improve little by little more each day. I don’t go to any courses anymore as here it is mostly hopeless to learn anything when having classes once a week. No, I changed to study on my own. I can set my own pace and see where I have to improve (actually everywhere…).
Where do I see myself in, lets say, 2 years of studies? I am pretty confident that I will be actually able to have real conversations with people. Each and every single day I study Chinese, mostly going through vocabulary again and again but I am such a dense person that this might be actually the only possible way to learn it. Yeah, I watch Chinese TV shows with my wife but the pace is normally so fast that I can only understand the beginning of the sentence or read the first few characters of the subtitles. But this is something I really want to do, I want to learn this language and I am going to stick with it (how I might regret saying this in 10 years…)
And guess what, all my excitement, preparation and practice with this language will be again repeated once my mother in law will arrive here in three months. Each time I visit there I set myself a goal I want to reach with my communication level. Each trip marks a step forward with my skills and I am looking forward to show of my new set of vocabulary and comprehension to them.
What about your experience with Chinese language or any other new language you are learning? How was your first experience with that language in a native environment?