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Linguistic daring

This really should go on the Guanxi blog, but it’s so much part of the flow of recent posts that I’ll drop it here, and expand a bit at Guanxionline in due course.

First, a little background. I’m a fairly relaxed traveler (far, far too relaxed, according to Tom, who has quite different ideas about getting to airports on time), I love to talk, and I have quite easily learned a number of languages to varying degrees: my Spanish is fairly good, my French is okay for reading and listening, I’ve got a bit of Italian, and studied German, too. And I’ve never hesitated about using whatever I could. But I have found Chinese completely daunting, though I started buying sets of Chinese language cassettes and CDs some four years ago. At first I couldn’t even make out the words, the separate sounds. And grasping the difference between the tones was (and is) a challenge. Now I recognize a few dozen words, so I can guess atbits of conversations. (For example, we visited an office last week and the receptionist announced on the phone to the person we were visiting that there were two foreigners. I understood that.) This is pathetic!

But today I had a breakthrough. Arriving in Beijing, I decided to try saying the name of the hotel (YouYi BinGuan) to the taxi driver. I’m still tremulous about the fact that he actually seemed to understand me, and when he asked about the building number in Chinese, I knew what he was saying and agreed by repeating the Chinese number. Small steps, indeed, but progress.

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