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.