She may as well have been speaking Chinese

Last week I had my first, scheduled, online discussion with “Amy” from Rosetta Stone. When I finished, I wished I knew how to say “Oy vey!” in Mandarin.

A “scheduled online discussion” in Rosetta World means that for thirty minutes you get to talk to someone who is a native speaker of the language. I was excited, because I had a lot of questions about syntax, and I really needed some help. At the designated time I logged on with my pre-prepped microphone headset and waited. Soon Amy’s voice called out.

Nǐ hǎo, Dawn!”

Nǐ hǎo,” I responded. My stomach quivered a bit; I’m not comfortable wrapping my tongue around this language yet, and even the “hello” set me off. But this was all part of the famous Rosetta Stone process. I needed to do it, and I was ready to go with Amy, who is a native Mandarin-speaker.

What I didn’t realize is that it was the only language she would use in our chat.

I knew that she was going to stick to words I’d learned two lessons earlier. At the time, I’d been on Unit 1, Lesson 4. Amy was quizzing me on stuff from Unit 1, Lesson 2. Should have been a piece of cake. It was more like a piece of mud pie. I couldn’t even remember the word for “milk” (niú nǎi).  I felt like a clueless two year-old.

Except that a two-year old Chinese kid would know the word for milk.

I should be better at this, I screamed in my head. I’m a writer, for Pete’s sake! I have a better-than-average command of the English language! I manipulate words on a regular basis!

Making things worse, during the chat it became clear that Amy also had an excellent command of the English language. (And she pronounced my name as though she was American.) But she stuck to speaking in Mandarin. She’s probably supposed to do that, however on-the-verge-of-tears the Rosetta Stone customer is. Maybe it’s some Tiger-Teacher philosophy.

She was patient with me. “Tǐng hǎo!” she would encourage when I got things right… which was usually after she’d had to type the answer on the screen. A few times I broke down and had to use English to explain that I didn’t know something. Or that I didn’t understand what Amy was asking me to say, like when she asked if I had a cat, as she pointed to a photo of a cat. (It was only an “Oh, duh!” after I understood what she was asking. Then I couldn’t remember the word for “no,” which, it turns out, isn’t “no.” Because “no” means no, except in Mandarin.)

It was the longest half-hour of my life. I literally breathed a sigh of relief when she said our time was up. “Zài jiàn, Dawn.” Zài jiàn, Amy!

I’m still going forward with the course. I want to learn this language. Eventually, I’ll even schedule my next chat session. But am I looking forward to it?

Bù shì!

10 thoughts on “She may as well have been speaking Chinese

  1. I’m stressed out just reading about your ordeal! I hope you took a few deep slow breaths in and out, after that! Zia jian.

    Ich liebe dich!

  2. Yeesh! Yeah, I think I’d go with something easier, but you’re brave, and honestly, why not start with one of the hardest…can only get easier from there, right? :p

    I know bits and pieces of so many languages…as you said, being a writer gives you a certain attachment to words. For myself, words and I have an “it’s complicated” relationship, as this is the first time I’ve tried to drag the lazy things off of the couch and put them to work, and they’re not sure how they feel about the idea. 😉

    As for the Mandarin…although I’m aware that its the equivalent to learning a language by hanging around bars and such…have you ever watched the tv show “Firefly”? If you have, you know what I mean. If not, google “objects in space firefly mandarin list”. Just for giggles. *hugs*. Good luck!

    • Thanks KC. 🙂 (LOVE how you describe your relationship with words!) I’ll get the hang of it, eventually.

      Umm… I googled the Firefly stuff but kept coming up with synopses of the final episode. Not sure what that had to do with learning Mandarin…? (Except I saw something that said they used Mandarin words for some things? Sorry, I don’t watch a lot of television anymore.)

      Can’t wait for your installment in the Fiction Relay! 🙂

      • Mrr. Lets see if I can get it to workthid time. Had three replies go poof on me so far. Google is stupid. Leave out objects in space. It’s “bastardized” mandarin, to quote the director, Joss Whedon. They mostly use it in the show as insults, exclamations, and straight out cussing. But since you are learning the language, it should be even funnier for you.

        Saw you read part 22…but no comment? I mean, not that I need them, it just makes me concerned that I did something wrong… :/

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