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Mission Bilingual Summer

Image Courtesy of Almost Fearless (see below)

Okay, folks!  How many of you out there have been saying that you want to learn a new language, FOR YEARS?  Yes, me too/I have (and you haven’t).  In fact, before I [accidentally] started procreating, one of my requirements in prepping for motherhood was the ability to fluently speak another language, so that I could give my children the gift of being bilingual.  While I always intended for that language to be Spanish (of which I already have a fairly good foundation, but would like to gain something attuned to fluency), I’ve found myself living in China… SO MANDARIN! it will be (for now and for purposes of this summer, not necessarily fluency).  Language exposure for our kids (and ourselves) was an important and exciting factor in our decision to move to across the Pacific.

In terms of language development, a motivating AND frustrating aspect of living in China is that English isn’t necessarily as ubiquitous as it is in other countries.  It’s motivating because of the frustrating.  Which is basically a win-win.  I’m tired of feeling like an a-hole [North] American, who can’t speak the language.  I’m tired of Chinese people apologizing TO ME when we have trouble communicating (when it should be I who is apologizing).

My daughter is cruising on her Mandarin learning, at a rate that puts my husband and I to shame (she attends a Chinese Montessori School).  And SO, this is ME committing myself to catch up with her.  While my husband and I had already made the decision to learn Mandarin when we moved here (and have been learning… slowly), the ever inspirational Christine Gilbert of Almost Fearless officially fanned the fire with her Bilingual Summer challenge-of-sorts.

Starting today, June 1st, my own personal summer language journey commences.  To help hold myself accountable, here are my goals (the non-committal way of saying, objectives):

1) Study for at least 1 hour per day.

2) Write two new sentences/phrases per  day.

3) Adopt two new phrases into my life per week.

4) Speak as often as I can, especially to my children.

The workbook has been started (complete with brand new multi-colored pens from Muji), a text book has been ordered, and our tutor has loaded us with things to study for the next month while we’re back in the USofA.

I’ll join Christine and will be posting updates (which, realistically, will be stories in which I make and ass out of myself) on Facebook and Twitter, using #bilingualsummer.

Anyone else up for the challenge?

Time to go render my brain dead and study some Mandarin!

The Freedom of Being Illiterate

Now I know what you’re thinking, illiteracy is no joking matter.  And you’re absolutely right, I mean that.  HOWEVER, taken out of the context of one’s own language and put into the context of a foreign tongue… let me enlighten you (or at the very least, explain to you).

As mentioned in my post yesterday, the art of communicating in a language you no next to nothing of, is quite infuriating and quite humbling (I may have left that part out, but it’s true).  This extends to most every form of communication (reading road signs, shop signs, and directions included)… with the exception of reading food labels.  I’m an AVID food label reader.  I like to know what I’m getting/choosing not to get myself into.  ALL THE TIME.  Well, guess what folks?  I can’t read Chinese characters (nor do I aspire to, ever) and as such, I’LL NEVER KNOW WHAT INGREDIENTS GO INTO ANYTHING PACKAGED (in China).  SO, you’d think the obvious answer would be to just boycott anything packaged, right?  Wrong. The answer is actually: pretend there ISN’T any partially hydrogenated oils, high fructose corn syrup, MSG (and a myriad of other things dreamed up in a lab), FREE YOURSELF!  Leave worrying about what potentially harmful consequences are lurking within your cells after consuming packaged snacks bought at the convenient store.

…right?  Maybe I got that wrong; that outlook is only excusable for so long (and in certain situations*, see below).

I’m here to tell you that this philosophy works well when you’re traveling and know that your time in that particular place is temporary, so sure, what harm is a package of local flavored Doritos really going to do (you don’t fully know a place until you know what flavored Doritos are offered there, winky face)?  And for the first few weeks here in China, it was sorta, kinda my outlook.  And then I was like, wait, I’M LIVING HERE NOW, this behavior MUST STOP.  But then I was like, come on, what about the children, the children!  This is the asterisk: the hardest part is having kids whose bodies tell them they should/could survive off of packaged crackers, candy, and cookies and when you’ve been dragging them around all day and they turn up starving (and all your normal go-to’s have been consumed) and your only option is a food kiosk where said packaged foods are the only convenient form of sustenance, you FOLD.  You buy the funny looking cracker sticks, flavor unknown, and pretend they’re not full of shit.

So, I’m sorry to say that this isn’t the end of consuming foods that could contain arsenic for all I know (I’m a realist), BUT THEY DON’T because what universe would do that to me when I’m illiterate?  Have some sympathy, for fuck’s sake.  I’m also going to pretend that feeling illiterate equals freedom, what other choice do I have?

And just in case a Chinese reader comes across this and calls me out on it, yes, I know the photo is of a bag of goji berries and as such, the label probably doesn’t have any other ingredients.  I had to make due with what I had in the house, and that was only healthy crap.  Don’t hold it against me… thanks.