I would like to post a little message to all those newbies out there who, like me, are just starting to learn mandarin. And to anyone who might be interested in hearing my point of view (we never know) on the so-many-comments, going something like this : ''if you do not live in China for at least two-three years, if you do not study mandarin for 6-8 hours per day, and if you are not living in China'' then you might never achieve a ''fluent'' stage of learning, and/or it might take you 20 years to reach the ''elementary'' level.
Now, this is just my opinion, and my own reflexions on the matter, and in no regards do I see it as ''THE'' truth. But this is what I came up with. For me, reading that it might take me up to 20 years to reach a level that I consider ''acceptable'', was quite discouraging. As much as I love China, as well as the chinese culture, the language and the oh-so-beautiful writting system, just as much as I might be ''young'' (26 years old), twenty years -are- A LOT of time. More so since I won't have the time to go to China for a full year for quite some years, as I am in medical school, and don't quite have the flexibility to take ''a year off'' (nor could I practice medicine in China latter on!). For some days I considered simply dropping the matter, and accept I might never learn mandarin. But something didn't feel right.
Truthfully, learning a new language, more so such a different language as mandarin, is a long-term goal. We're living in an era where everything needs to go fast, and obtain almost immediately. I want that new tv? no problem! put it on the credit card. But, there are not Visas for learning. Thus the frustration when learning you might not speak correct mandarin right away, but MAYBE if you're good, after two years or so.
And, more importantly, learning a language TAKES TIME. Speaking french as a first language, and living in Montreal where french and english co-exist, I know something about it. Though my father introduced me to english at quite a young age, firmly believing that the more languages you speak the better, I have not started really putting efforts into learning a second language up until I was 12 years old. Since that time, my english has improved tremendously, I read almost only in english, I rarely watch tv in french as I prefer english tv shows, I go to the movies in english, etc. I consider myself bilingual, but in no way do I consider myself as good as a ''native''. And I've been ''studying'' engilsh for 16 years now! I've been living in a city where english and french coexist every day and where I can easily practice/hear/read the language.
Realizing that, how could you, really, expect to learn to speak perfect mandarin in less than 20 years? Especially in a culture where the art of speaking and writting is even more praised, complex, and important than in the french culture? Comparing it with the time it took me to achieve a ''fluent'' english level (with half my family speaking english as their first language, in a city where english is spoken sometimes more than french) the it-will-take-you-20-years simply makes sense. Learning mandarin is not impossible, nor does it take tremendously more time than any other language out there. Of course it might be slightly harder at first, with the tones and the grammar being different, etc. But that is normal. And it is okay. Because, really, this is the way things are. It takes time. That is the beauty of it.
Though I sometimes dream we could do like in the Matrix and simply load the data ;).
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