Saturday, August 20, 2016

On Learning Mandarin in Singapore

     Monday, 15 August, I began Intensive Mandarin with a private enterprise called inlingua. I'm immersed in it for seven hours a day, five days a week. My class started small, just seven of us. Two have fallen by the wayside.  One decided she liked Korean better than Mandarin.  The other, a middle-aged Australian, just couldn't get it. That leaves three twenty-somethings, one of whom is French, but has lived in Asian since seven years of age.  A Kiwi, aged 45 or so, is struggling, but hanging in there.
     I'm having fun. My classes at City College of San Francisco and College of San Mateo engraved something on my brain that has survived six years of neglect.  In fact, this time around, I'm super-aware of learning tones, and tone-markers in the transliteration of Mandarin.  This class places little emphasis on learning characters, so I will have to tackle that on my own, and I brought the materials to do so.  This will help me read signs, and MAYBE headlines.
     Here's the curious thing. As Singapore's population is roughly 75% Chinese by ethnicity, one might expect to easily strike up conversations in Mandarin. One would be wrong.  Speech communities and language choices in Singapore are complicated. The oldest generation may speak the Hokkien or Teochew dialect. Middle aged folk may have studied Mandarin in school.  They often are more comfortable speaking English. Young mainlanders studying or working here do speak Mandarin. It takes a bit of eavesdropping on the SMRT busses and trains to figure out upon whom I can inflict my language practice.
     I survived this first week, and will complete three more, taking me thru the first full week of September.  Then I will start Chinese brush painting class, just two days a week and I'll be back exploring the landscape and food.

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