Another mandarin milestone

26 Oct

This afternoon I experienced another mandarin milestone – I gave an hour long presentation to about 30 people (clients) in Chinese about a very specific topic including the results of two different surveys.  Even though my delivery was far from elegant, I kept them interested, laughing, and questioning with lots of people coming up to me during tea break and asking questions – both about the content of my presentation, but also where I studied mandarin.

I am very proud of myself.

Presentations in English at this point are natural for me, one run through, a few notes and I typically can control the room.  Giving this presentation required additional prep time and I went through it twice before delivery with an understanding colleague.  I also had a one page “cheat sheet” of some terms that for whatever reason just didn’t roll off my tongue, which I referred to as needed.

The second rehearsal after I went through it and thanked my colleague for her time, she said something that made me think.  She said, “It’s inspiring to me that you keep challenging yourself.  No one is going to make you do this presentation in Mandarin, but the fact that you are doing it makes me want to try new things.”

This time of year (October/November) seems to be the time of year for these “stand out milestones” for me.  Last year November I gave a presentation with a colleague together in Mandarin at one of our big events.  Two years ago my then boss switched our management meetings from English into Chinese and three years ago I finally realized I could do phone calls in Mandarin.

If you had asked me 10 years ago what language I would be presenting in I probably would have said Spanish.  Who knew what would happen?

Language learning is something that is never ending.  Earlier this week I watched a TED Talk about the ability of babies under 12 months old to absorb the sounds needed for any language with less than one hour a day of exposure.  Needless to say, I exceed that age limit pretty handily, but I’m still trying.

Milestones like these make me wonder if I should start Chinese lessons again.  I stopped them earlier this year right before Chinese New Year because I knew that I would have a very busy period and my base level of Mandarin was enough.  Each breakthrough though I want to learn more – make it more perfect, push myself a little farther.  Realistically that is not going to happen short term, but maybe next year?

What do you think?  What should I do?

All comments welcome.


20 Responses to “Another mandarin milestone”

  1. abc in shanghai October 26, 2012 at 8:55 pm #

    that’s awesome! i’m struggling with my classes as i don’t think i’m any better (speaking-wise) than when we first started. i think too much emphasis is put on reading and writing in this program at jiaotong university. any suggestions?

    great job btw.

    • gkm2011 October 26, 2012 at 9:05 pm #

      Thanks! My learning was pretty much backwards from the traditional university setting – I put so much emphasis on speaking the first two years that I knew very few characters until maybe 3 years in and I still don’t write. I think for speaking you just need to keep putting yourself out there (and it helps that Li is a native speaker for me as well), but a big part of it is speaking with my colleagues and taking criticism gracefully. Another thought is I really found that one-on-one lessons with a teacher makes a difference, especially when you do an hour or 90 minutes full off in Chinese. Even if your Chinese isn’t perfect, it builds up an endurance which is completely different than a classroom setting. Finally – I only normally talk about milestones here, not for example when I was sick a few weeks ago and my colleagues started teasing me that they couldn’t understand my mandarin because my the Chinese part of my brain must still be ill. Those can be very humbling comments as well – but I think it shows I’ve developed trust with them. So – no easy answers, but good luck back!

      • expatlingo October 26, 2012 at 10:38 pm #

        This is fantastic! Congratulations! Maybe you’re at the point where you can progress in leap and bounds simply by watching movies 😉

      • gkm2011 October 27, 2012 at 8:05 am #

        That sounds like a great idea, but I still doubt my ability there. I did notice though when I watch TV in Chinese it is still pretty difficult to follow, so perhaps that is a good next goal.

  2. thirdeyemom October 26, 2012 at 8:58 pm #

    Awesome! I can’t imagine learning Mandarin and how hard it Must be!

    • gkm2011 October 26, 2012 at 9:06 pm #

      Thanks – the big problem is that it is overwhelming, especially when you’ve been studying for a while and realize how much farther there is to go. Milestones come quicker at the beginning. Being surrounded by the language definitely helps.

  3. annaamazhang October 27, 2012 at 1:21 am #

    Chinese is a difficult language to grasp and it only gets harder as the level increases. It definitely would not hurt to take a few more classes again and advance on vocabulary. From taking a couple years of the language, I realize that after you master the basic conversational and grammar portion, it is mostly all vocabulary that you have to absorb in. Keep it up! You’re already so far in, as it seems, with being able to present in Chinese! Props to you! 🙂

    • gkm2011 October 27, 2012 at 8:07 am #

      Thanks! You are right about the vocabulary. My vocabulary is very deep in a few areas (insurance terms for example that directly relate to my job), but very light in others (for example, cultural topics). I need to continue in a structured way, but not quite sure how to go about it. It likely will be one on one tutoring because I doubt there are many folks at my level with the same vocabulary holes. 🙂

  4. valerie October 27, 2012 at 10:40 am #

    Keep it up! Try another lesson and see where it takes you

    • gkm2011 October 27, 2012 at 10:49 am #

      Thanks! I know – it’s the first lesson that’s the hardest. Maybe I’ll email my teacher and see if she’s free. 🙂

  5. Christa October 31, 2012 at 2:01 pm #

    Greta- let me know if you find something that works for you! I have been wanting to improve my Spanish more, since when we were in college we didn’t really use words like “crayons” or “swing” to discuss philosophy and art, but I really need those childhood words in my job. However, I have not signed up for any more classes either, because the courses I could take here are not advanced enough for what I need. Perhaps there will be more options for you, since you are learning the language of the country you are in, but I would be curious to know what you find. Good luck, girl! I know you’ll rock it!

    • gkm2011 October 31, 2012 at 9:10 pm #

      Thanks! Watching Chinese TV does help improve my vocabulary and may be a way to pick up those type of words, but it is still something that isn’t always fun. I’ll keep you posted.

  6. roomaomao November 2, 2012 at 2:13 pm #

    I can tell kindergarteners pretty good stories with my Chinese, but my vocabulary is pretty sketchy when it comes to insurance/technical terms haha.

    • gkm2011 November 3, 2012 at 9:43 am #

      We need to do a “language exchange” then. My kindergarten Chinese definitely leaves much to be desired. 🙂

      • roomaomao November 4, 2012 at 12:42 pm #

        Deal. Haha

  7. eof737 November 6, 2012 at 8:05 am #

    I’m simply impressed by your effort… After years of frustration, I’m studying french again… Never too late or old to learn. Your story inspires me. 😉

    • gkm2011 November 6, 2012 at 8:26 pm #

      I’m sure that you can do it. Keep studying!


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