- September
Posted By : talkingofchinese
The “sleeping dictionary” dream

Random people on the street have helped me more with my language learning endeavour than my “sleeping dictionary”.

To be fair, I didn’t get with my Chinese fiance Peter for his “sleeping dictionary” capabilities. I paid very little attention to the fact that he was Chinese at all.

He speaks perfect English (along with Spanish and Chinese) so, naturally, we built our relationship in English.

Fast forward to meeting his parents – who speak very little English – suddenly, learning Chinese (which I had never considered doing in my life) became something I felt I couldn’t live without.

My first step was to turn to Peter and his parents for help. This failed pretty spectacularly for a number of reasons:

1. Peter has very little interest in teaching me Chinese and, as I have discovered the hard way, just because someone speaks a language doesn’t mean they are able to teach it.

2. His mother immediately and – to her credit – enthusiastically, took up the challenge and began pointing at things and saying the words for them in Chinese. While this approach obviously works for children it really doesn’t hit the mark with adult learners.

3. His father, who is highly educated and could probably teach me, is a quiet, considered man who doesn’t waste words. When I try to speak to him in Chinese – mangling a beautiful and ancient language that he can write poetry in – it’s like his ears can’t (or don’t want to) comprehend the mess he is hearing.

So I turned to self study, university and a wonderful tutor on italki who helps me out from Shanghai via Skype.

I am hoping that once I get better my “sleeping dictionary” will have no choice but to talk back.

For now the Chinese people I meet in the streets and shops (I moved to a part of Sydney with a high population of Chinese speakers for a more “immersive” environment) are teaching me more than the person they assume is my biggest language learning asset.

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  • You ARE very brave. Congrats on your engagement, and I am very impressed at the lengths you will go to learn Mandarin.

    There are times when I wish I spoke the same language as my in-laws. Then I remember that it is best for us all to keep communication to a minimum.

    • Thanks for stopping by Autumn! I think you might have a point – there are many times where I think it’s been good to be able to keep communication to a minimum. Are you in the same country as your in-laws? Mine live a five min drive away so interaction is pretty essential. I’d be interested to know if you have you had more interaction with your in-laws over time?

  • Good luck and 加油 with your learning! 😉

  • Hello!

    I am new in your blog and I really liked it 🙂 Congrats and greetings from Chile!
    I have the same issue. My chinese boyfriend speaks fluent english so we built our relationship in english too. I studied chinese in China for a year, so I have a so so level, but anyways, to expect he will be able to teach me and practice with me it is not a good idea haha… Sometimes he tries but in the end, we always end speaking english. Now he is learning spanish (my native language) so I have to help him sometimes. Both of us are learning from the other, little by little, sometimes a bit frustrating but there we are haha.

    Nice blog!

    • Hi Cassandra,

      Thanks so much for your comment – it’s great to know that there are other people out there experiencing similar language learning challenges!!

      My fiance is keen for me to learn Spanish (as he gets few opportunities to practice!) but I have a lot more motivation to learn the language his parents speak. I wish I could study for a year (I’m trying to fit it in around work and the longest continuous time I’ve managed is 5 weeks in Taiwan but I’m hoping to do a longer stint soon!)

      I’m keen to hear more about your experiences – I’ll check out your site 🙂

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