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Tuesday, February 21, 2006

A Mandarin Flop

I've always been fascinated with languages ever since I was a little boy. I got intrigued with languages when I started to know about Indiana Jones. "Knowing a whole bunch of languages and communicating with the locals would be a thrilling experience," I thought to myself. So I have always tried ways to learn some simple phrases of another language.

For some reason, as a child, I shy away from the languages that Malaysians speak. I do not have the desire to learn Tamil to speak to the locals nor do I have a liking for speaking Malay. Mandarin was suppose to be a must because I'm Chinese and it's embarrassing when people say to me, "What you're Chinese and you can't speak Mandarin? You're a disgrace!" But somehow I just avoided learning it.

Both of my parents can't speak Mandarin so I can't learn from them. So they sent me to a Mandarin kindergarten. It was a major flop. They spoke and taught in Mandarin and I have no idea what any of the teacher is saying when they do so. I always get a big zero in my Mandarin kindergarten test except for English though. I was the top student in English in my kindergaren and each and every test I would surely get a 100% correct. Primary school came and it wasn't until standard three (equivalent to eight years old then) that they made it compulsory to take Mandarin classes if you're Chinese in the Malay primary school.

Unfortunately due to almost zero knowledge on Mandarin, I had no idea what on earth the teacher was saying even though we had textbooks that had Pin Yin on it. I finally gave up Mandarin when one day I felt insulted by the strict Mandarin teacher. He asked me what is my name in Mandarin and I had no idea what was he saying. He asked again. No idea what he was saying. He hollered in Mandarin "Name, name, your name. What is your name?!!?" Still puzzled, I repeated name in Mandarin. Then he started to scold me in Mandarin saying, "What, you don't even know your own name?"

And that was the end of my needing to learn Mandarin. When I got home, I told my father that I do not want to take the Mandarin class anymore. So My father spoke to my teacher and that was the end of my Mandarin classes. I was not alone however. Pretty soon, some other guys had manage to get permission to stop their Mandarin classes too. So everytime Mandarin classes were on, the few of us would be at the school field playing the time away.

Then came a time when it was after my high school that I've decided to pick up Mandarin again. Unfortunately, at such a late time, it was no longer easy nor was it that simple for me to pick it up. I didn't take a class or anything just tried to learn by myself. I manage to pick up some words since it was very similar to the Cantonese equivalent. I tried to pick up by watching Chinese shows and news. My Mandarin improved a little when I was down in Johor Bahru visiting two of my friends who were studying in university there. In Johor Bahru, everybody around speaks Mandarin so I was force to speak some and to be around people who speaks Mandarin.

Now finally, although I'm still really weak in my Mandarin, but at least I have managed to improve to the point where I can understand what a person is trying to say to me most of the time. I'm still trying to learn lots of languages but time is always of the essence. At least I can say I know Japanese now. :P

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