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Learn Chinese in China

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I just came back from a conference in Beijing. Second trip ever there.


I wasn't able to use as much Mandarin as my trip to Qingdao a few weeks ago. That was because I went up with some people who could speak better Chinese Mandarin and Cantonese so I couldn't be forced to problem solve in Mandarin as much as in Qingdao. 


I went down to the wangfujing bookstore and spent a lot on books. Hope I will make good use of them. A few graded readers, textbooks on listening skills and a few books on learning from sitcoms. Should keep me busy for a few years.


I tried to arrange a badminton lesson with a coach. It nearly worked but he cancelled saying his mother had needed to go to hospital the evening before. Unfortunately, it was not possible to arrange for something else. 


I met up with some of my Beijing based "language partners". Actually, these people are not true language partners in the sense that we only communicate infrequently. I regard them as friends with an interest in English. I don't have anybody who I regularly have exchange verbal conversations with once I am at home.


Some observations on learning experiences :


- bars are too noisy, but there was a cylinder marked as 二氧化碳。A quick looked up in pleco confirmed it was carbon dioxide. 苹果酒 is cider so that was very useful.


- Went for a few meals. One of them was with a almost fluent English speaker. Loved the way I could listen to the staff and she could provide an instant repetition and clarification. For example, we were waiting in the queue for a table with a number and I thought they called out our queuing number (六六 as an abbreviation of 六十六). I was in about a 70% tuned in mode. In fact, they had called out number 60 - 六十零 dropping the sh- and -ng sounds. Since there was a few other tables still to be called out, I had the chance to carefully listen again.


- another couple of occasions I met up with minimal verbal English skill speakers. Lots of Mandarin spoken by them but not much comprehension on my side. Good for passive learning.



All in all, yes I learnt some more Mandarin but I think my experience in Qingdao was better due to me needing to sort out things for myself more there. Also, it was not easy to switch to English in Qingdao, Beijing is easier for that. Looking forward to going through those books.


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Love the proactiveness, and very envious of you getting to go to the wangfujing bookstore, so many books I wasn't able to take home!

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2 hours ago, Tomsima said:

Love the proactiveness, and very envious of you getting to go to the wangfujing bookstore, so many books I wasn't able to take home!


I spent over 800rmb on books because I don’t know when I will be back next in Beijing. It was fun flicking through the books. I should be able to do some book reviews. 


Oh, my conference had simultaneous interpreting as there were some English and Chinese presentations. First time I have attended such a conference and having read your blog, I kept a keener eye on it. Our conference topics are super specialised and I can appreciate how tough it is as a job. There were four interpreters on duty for the one day. 


English to Chinese - this is a real challenge , I mean it is probably at the very highest levels of difficulty. None of the presentations in English were by native english speakers - the academics from different Asian countries were using English as a second language and some had really strong accents.  I could hardly understand the Vietnamese speaker using English and was highly impressed with the interpreter translating that presentation into chinese. Unfortunately, my chinese is not up to the level where I can comment on the quality of the translation but still, any person who could understand that heavy accent and also provide a simultaneous interpretation deserves a medal. 


Chinese to english - one interpreter sounded like a native English speaker, the other not quite native English accent but say typical of someone who moved from China to overseas around 10 to 13 years old. Some of the terminology was quite tricky and they needed to refer to the slide for those and some of those were not quite correct.


For me, it was a bit of an awful time. LOL.  One ear is listening to mandarin and the other is listening to English and my brain doesn’t like that.


BTW, on the trip, the other HK colleagues asked me to dinner. I declined because I wanted to maximise my mandarin exposure instead of listening to and partaking in a Cantonese conversation.

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I think the E-C accent issue is a really interesting one, because I often find as a native English speaker I get really hung up on accents I cant fully understand, whereas a non-native speaker is used to that feeling of not getting everything 100% and so I think psychologically is less affected. The same is perhaps not true of C-E accents, as these are almost solely limited to regional Chinese accents, and no international conference speakers are using Chinese as the lingua franca (yet...?) The errors you noticed in C-E almost certainly were there too in E-C, as the whole process of simultaneous interpreting is like google translate - the interpreter can only work sentence by sentence because of time constraints, and so sometimes miss the bigger picture and underlying threads of an argument. I myself can't even process a whole sentence, Im still working clause by clause, otherwise I just cant keep up!

My exams are over now, and its dissertation writing time. Being back in the UK and having access to a lot of Cantonese speakers (as well as Mandarin), I'm toying with the idea of finally taking a punt at getting some cantonese under my belt...

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