You’re moving to China? Fantastic! Now get those language books out! Learning any type of anything new is tricky. At any age. Do you remember that first piano lesson or the first time you were told the rules to football (soccer) or 21’s (pontoon/ blackjack)? Remember that feeling that you weren’t getting anywhere, all you wanted to do was give up and go home, put the telly on with a nice cuppa and your feet up? Well that’s how I feel sometimes learning Chinese. No matter how many times I ask my local colleagues “how do you say this?” I always forget it two seconds later.
I do have a translator app that is my best friend and I do have an app to learn mandarin but when I open my mouth, so proud that I’m about to utter a sentence in Mandarin, I get met with looks of confusion and often get the sentence repeated to me several times. I end up miming the whole sentence, TPRing chicken in a busy restaurant anyone? This is frustrating but I keep going because I realise that if my 3- 10 year old students can do it for English, I can do it for Chinese.
Learning a new language can actually help with your teaching. You end up feeling like your students sometimes and feel like you don’t want to talk anymore. But you also learn how it feels to be learning something that is a completely different sound to what you’re used to. You learn that you have to move your mouth and tongue in completely different ways, as do your students. They don’t speak English, so for them a ‘C’ is as ‘ts’ and an ‘X’ is a ‘sh’ so when you ask them what it is they will likely respond in Chinese. Just like you would do if presented with a word in PinYin. Trying to get your head around the difference between your first language and this new one is a mind trip for you and for your students. This can help you empathise with them and realise that simple mistakes you take for granted in your first language are the same one your making in their first language. It helps to bring you together on the same level and in some cases you can help each other. You’re teaching them English and you’re passively learning Chinese. The other day I was doing a Life Club on Cinderella and learned what the Chinese word for Pumpkin is. It wasn’t on my vocabulary list but I learned it because that’s the first word they said. Then I taught them the word for ‘pumpkin’ and we both learned something new.
It is a constant struggle to learn this strange language for me, I am slowly picking it up, just like my students are too. I make so many simple mistakes, like my students, but I keep trying and appreciate the help. If you can learn to laugh at yourself, like your students mostly can, then you’ll be fine. At least you’re trying, I do know some foreigners in other parts of the world that don’t think they need to bother to learn at all. I keep telling myself that I haven’t been here for that long so it’s ok. And I’ve found that a lot of people are willing to help you learn too. Don’t be afraid to look like an idiot, it’s the best way to learn I’ve found!