If your significant other is Chinese, why are you learning Mandarin?
I know quite a few poddies have a significant other who happens to be Chinese. If any of you don't feel it is too personal, I'm curious as to why you learn Mandarin. Is it to communicate better with the significant other? The family? Take the load off of he or she from acting as a translator? Just to feel closer? Or is that you were already learning Mandarin, and happened to meet he or she along the way? Some totally different reason?
The reason I ask is because I happen to be married to a Chinese woman. I was actually trying to learn Mandarin before meeting her, but I was very much a beginner at that time. I really put my weight into the language, though. I always thought that learning Mandarin will lead to something good. So far I have been modestly correct. I hope in the future I will be proven to be fantastically correct. Anyway, one of the things that I am proud of is that now my wife and I speak more Mandarin than English. It however can be comical listening to us. We often switch between languages and combine the two languages into one sentence.
Hope this isn't the wrong time to ask. Seems that summer is often a bit dead around here.
TalJuly 12, 2010, 03:44 AM
Well, I started learning Mandarin before I came to China and acquired a 'significant other' too. Perhaps like many poddies, once I got started learning Chinese it became something I had to continue with because: a) it's a great hobby, and b) it's a waste to put a lot of time into doing something and then give up.
I also feel that if you live and work and China (as I do) for any length of time, then it's just dumb and monstrously self-absorbed to take no interest in the language. I just don't get how people can spend years in the country and never learn it. Personally I also think you need to learn it in order not to feel helpless and constantly dependent on others.
I'm afraid my SO and I use little Chinese in our daily life though. When we first met I was nowhere near fluent enough to do so, and she was extremely keen to learn English, so little by little we came to be using English about 80% of the time, and that's stayed more or less the same. That's actually hindered my own progress to a certain extent I think, but that's life.
I'm glad you answered Tal. I'm curious, do you have a similar problem as me, namely that when you are with your wife, many Chinese will talk in Mandarin with your wife as if you aren't there? I blame myself partially as I should know that I should have to work harder to include myself in a conversation in a language that I don't yet feel 100% comfortable in, but I am surprised at how Chinese sense of etiquette often doesn't seem to require including everyone present in a conversation. (Perhaps it is the old shy thing going on.) I only became fully conscious of what was going on here when an old American Chinese couple talked with us and made a decent attempt to keep me in the conversation flow.
That's just how it is! In Shantou most Chinese people you meet will assume that you don't speak Chinese. In restaurants and public places people will talk to the spouse in Chinese, or (a particular irk for foreigners here), the local dialect. You have to make the running though, you've gotta do like we tell the kids and just forget about 'losing face' - lol. Oh and get used to saying 过奖了 about a million times!
I've taken to interrupting such exchanges with a direct question or two, you know just the usual stuff: what part of China are you from, do you have kids, have you eaten, etc. Get them talking to you, and even if you don't catch every word it's a helluva 口语 workout!
waiguorenJuly 12, 2010, 04:29 AM
Not sure I'm qualified to respond here - as I don't have a significant other - Chinese or otherwise, but it does surprise just how many 'foreigners' who do have a Chinese wife, and have been in the country some time, can't speak the language.
I used to work with two married couples, and both of them could barely speak Chinese. One couldn't even read a menu, and when he was dining alone, often got his wife to write down for him what to order whenever he went somewhere. if I was in this situation I would feel incredibly frustrated, as Tal_ said 'I also think you need to learn it in order not to feel helpless and constantly dependent on others'.
I suppose the reason they don't learn is a) it's too hard and b) when your partner speaks fluent English it is possible to get by with no Chinese whatsoever, but this still leaves the helpless and constantly dependent thing unanswered.
You are not qualified! Go! (Just kidding, of course.) I'm also surprised at how many foreign guys don't bother to learn much Chinese. I have even met some that are proud that they don't know any Chinese. I don't really have the right to judge if another person is doing his wife/girlfriend wrong by not learning her language, but gosh, it just doesn't make sense to me.
sebastianJuly 12, 2010, 05:58 AM
I originally started learning Mandarin, because my wife encouraged me and we thought it would help me to communicate with her parents better (who both speak no English at all). However, her family is originally from Fujian and now lives in Hong Kong, so her parents mainly speak a mix of Minnanhua and Cantonese.
I studied Mandarin until I got to an intermediate level (HSK 7), but never used it except to talk to my wife - and communication with her parents did not improve as well. So I switched my focus to Cantonese and found it much more useful for both interacting with her family and getting around in everyday life (we live in Hong Kong) .
I am wondering if others have experienced similar situations where Mandarin just did not cut it and started learning one of the Chinese "dialects" in addition or instead?
Wow, HSK 7... that's really good. I managed a level 6 twice. I can relate to only speaking to the wife. I sometimes talk to other people in Chinese, but usually not in depth. Just basic small talk stuff or store and restaurant language. As I have mentioned in my comments to Tal and Hamshank here, I find that many Chinese just refuse to talk to me in their language. I'm wondering if you get the same thing?
I can relate to Mandarin not cutting it just a bit. My wife is from a city where they don't get many 外地人, so they really don't feel comfortable or can't speak Mandarin well. I plan on nailing down some basic vocabulary just for them because I Spring Festival is a long time when nobody speaks a language around you that you can speak.
Yea, I started out full blast with Mandarin because everyone told me it was useless to study and I should study Mandarin. I married a local girl a few years ago. Although she speaks good English her parents don't speak a word.
Since then I have devoted the majority of my time on Cantonese.
j_chanJuly 12, 2010, 06:07 AM
Hi Guys, I just happened to see this thread in my discussions list, probably intentionally included by my 老师。
I'm not Chinese (although everyone mistakes me for one) but my fiance is. Apart from wanting to be able to communicate with my future mother-in-law, I'm studying Chinese because I find it's a very practical and challenging language. Also, I don't like it when I cannot understand what everyone is saying around me, and this happens when I'm surrounded by my fiance's family and friends. Although he tries to translate every now and then, I can't blame them for speaking Chinese most of the time because I know it is unnatural and not easy for them to suddenly talk to each other in English just because I'm around. I just made it a personal challenge to be the one who adapts to the many, rather than the many for me.
My lofty goal is to be able to converse with him in his own language without the need for English, although both of us are fluent in it. Plus, I wouldn't want our future kids to be conversing in a language that I don't understand. Although learning Chinese is tough tough tough work (those tones drive me nuts), I know in the end it will all be worth it :-)
If everyone mistakes you for being Chinese, I assume you are of Asian ancestry? If so, at least in the realm of learning Chinese, you have an advantage--Chinese people will typically talk to you in Chinese.
hamshankJuly 12, 2010, 06:16 AM
I have a Taiwanese partner but my only motivation for learning was the fact we were planning to move to Taiwan for a few years.
We met speaking English at Univerity in England, and then lived together for about 5 years speaking English so there never really seemed much immediate need to learn. She also liked it that way too. It meant she could she could complain to her mum about me on the phone from time to time whilst sat right next to me.
Now I am in Taiwan though, I regret not starting sooner. I only started learning about 6 months before heading out and boy was that a mistake!
I don't know about the Americans but the Brits have a bit of a reputation when travelling for assuming it will be alright because everyone will speak English. I don't really want to fall into that category if I can help.
Haha, no--it's true for Americans as well. The funny thing is, my wife does think that English is good enough for pretty much everywhere, but I am sensitive to the fact that not everyone knows or wants to speak English. I have heard that for some French this is a particular annoyance, so when we went to France, I tried my hardest to ask questions as best as I could in French, no matter how broken. My wife didn't care... she went up to any French person and started asking them lots of complicated questions in English. She often got back a baffled look along with a bunch of French that we couldn't understand, but she kept trying
The thing I can't get used to is that some people in China don't seem to think foreigners should or even are able to speak Chinese. (Many Americans are annoyed by people who live in our country who don't make an effort to learn English.) There have been many times where Chinese people seem to not really understand that I can communicate in Mandarin, perhaps much better than they can speak English. I sent one woman several emails in Chinese trying to imply that I would like to speak in Chinese with her because every time I spoke to her in Chinese, she replied in English. Then one time she was talking to another person in Chinese. I merely said 我同意. She said, "You can understand what we said???"
I'm curious if it is the same in Taiwan? I think you implied that your level is a bit lower, but perhaps you got a feel for the attitude Taiwanese have toward foreigners speaking their language.
Haha good story, perhaps Darwin just left that particular woman behind.
In Taiwan I find it that everyone will speak Chinese to you if you show the slightest inkling that you know a word or two. Sometimes all it takes is a basic 點二號 and they will strike up a conversation with you.
I go to the gym every morning before work and take a bus to get there. There was one man who was interested why a foreigner was up at 6 in morning going for a bus (must be a rare sight or something ;)) Anyway, he politely asked me in English about it...I then replied very slowly with appalling pronunciation 我去健身房 and ever since he will always talk to me in the morning in Chinese which is nice.
Ironically, it's only my misses that doesn't like to speak Chinese with me. I don't think she has the patience to teach and always says that I ask really weird questions that she has never thought about. In an attempt to change that, I'm trying to introduce Chinese Tuesday's where we can only speak Chinese to each other all day even if I can't understand what is going on.
I feel very similar to you. My wife has no patience to teach. Actually, I get my mother-in-law to come to our house and we study together an hour a week. I'm also thinking of doing something along the lines of your "Chinese Tuesdays". I'm going to break it to her soon. Let me know how you get along with it.
sebastianJuly 12, 2010, 06:17 AM
"...It however can be comical listening to us. We often switch between languages and combine the two languages into one sentence..."
Yeah, my wife and I also have this problem. For example, she once asked me "this tea 是不是 好饮?". She said 是不是 in Mandarin and 好饮 (=好喝) in Cantonese
johnbJuly 12, 2010, 09:51 AM
My wife and I code switch a lot, too. I think it's natural, especially when neither person is natively bilingual (we often code switch around our weaknesses). I have friends in the US that are natively bilingual, though (mostly Spanish and English) that code switch like mad with their spouses, too, though.
I learned Chinese, though, to operate effectively in China, which has been my home for the last seven years. I'm sure having someone there all the time to talk to has helped, but I think I would have learned it anyway, because being illiterate and mute was horrible. I wanted to change it as quickly as possible upon arriving.
Still, all that said, I couldn't imagine not learning my spouse's native language. Language is such an integral part of who we are... why wouldn't you want to share that with someone you love?
"Still, all that said, I couldn't imagine not learning my spouse's native language. Language is such an integral part of who we are... why wouldn't you want to share that with someone you love?"
I totally agree!
I hope someday my wife and I can operate almost equally as well in an English or Chinese environments.