Shanghaied into Chinese

Submitted by patho on Sun, 16/11/2008 - 15:50

Learning mandarin Chinese (a.k.a. "pu tong hua") is a real challenge compared to most European languages. In some ways it is easy, as words do not change with gender, number or even tense, and there are few grammatical traps. However you got to pronounce the five tones correctly (flat, down-up, up-down-up, up-down, neutral) and peculiar sounds such as "c", "x", "ch", "sh", "zh" ... (as transcribed in pinyin) or you might say very rude or totally absurd things without being aware. Moreover mono-syllabic words are combined in strict sequences to create correct meaning. That is of course without the added complexity of the writing.

More then fifteen years ago I followed two consecutive year with the "Association Belge-Chine" but I gave up due to work pressure and lack of tanglible results. This year Xiao Mei - a friend of ours - started her own school - hosted at Floralia in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe, so this "academic" year - motivated by my stay in Beijing during the Olympic Games - I decided to go for a second attempt. Indeed our young teacher Qin is having hell of a job conditioning Sean (8 year), his sister Lynn (5 year), Camille (12 years), Valentine (9 years), Mareva (13 years) and myself (38 years).

So far we are able to greet, talk about class, family, food, animals, think in time and sing along a couple of songs. Compared with my previous experience, I feel like moving at warp speed, and I really got to study to keep up. Amazing how easily kids soak up languages, and they listen carefully to the teacher as well, as opposed to adults, who tend to be more interested in their own stories. Maybe I am not yet that fluent, but I got faith that this time I will be making real progress. Elsewhere on my site - in the wiki - I created a dynamic vocabulary and a training game.

Teacher Qin stores all the lessons on her blog at

Floralia school in Sint-Lambrechts-Woluwe hosting Chinese lesson on Saturday morning. From left to right, top to down: Camille, Valentine, Mareva, teacher Qin, Lynn, me and Sean. More experience Chinese speaker - Thomas - coming to inspect. Sean and Lynn dutifully cleaning the blackboard during the break. Ever moving and smiling Lynn. Painting full with objects to be identified in Chinese. Sign language to support me and Sean's singing act. Embodying animals for Lynn to guess in Chinese ... this is clear illustration of a spider, with Sean as the fourth pair of legs a bit lost at the back. There's no better way to learn than by teaching ;-) Oeps we got to train to sing our new song in front of the other classes. As long as we got fun along the way ...