Friday, November 04, 2011

Do You Speak Chinese?

As you might imagine, we are asked all the time, when we meet new people and they find out that we spend a lot of time in China, whether we speak Mandarin.

I have found it interesting, over the years, to pay attention to how we (myself included) answer this question.

Oftentimes I just respond, "Yes." And, in most situations, that is enough.

But what about when we are asked more specifically? For example, "How well do you speak?"

Desi, I've noticed, will say things like, "Well, Steve is at an upper intermediate level. As for me, I can order a meal, tell a taxi driver where to go, and find a bathroom when I need it."

It is kind of a mess when you are "in the middle" with a language. What does that mean, to tell a person that you are at an upper intermediate level? How poor can your Chinese be if you can easily get around Beijing on your own?

Deep down, how do we convey our language abilities without downplaying them too much or overselling ourselves?

One thing that none of us would ever do, of course, is make the claim that we are anywhere near fluency. And so I found it interesting to see that presidential candidate John Huntsman, who was most recently the American ambassador to China, is coming under a bit of fire on the campaign trail for letting everyone think that he is a fluent Mandarin speaker.

I myself have no personal insight into the matter, but Slate posted an article the other day on the topic. The article picks through all of the public Mandarin speaking that Huntsman has done, including on programs such as the Colbert Report and Piers Morgan Tonight. Apparently, the bottom line is that Huntsman has not spoken much Mandarin in front of crowds, and when he has, the results have not been all that impressive.

If it really is true that this "fluent" Mandarin-speaking presidential candidate is not so fluent after all, then I for one can certainly identify with him in certain respects. It is quite a language to learn, and there is a long distance between even solid competency and true fluency. Although the truly hard part is bridging that distance, it is also the case that this "upper intermediate" learner finds it pretty tough to communicate to friends, family, and acquaintances just what I can and can't do with the Chinese language.

~Steve

Monday, October 31, 2011

Four Shows In Three Days

And we enjoyed them all! Good job to Julie, Z, and the rest of the Hairspray cast and crew!

~Steve

PS: That's a few cast and crew members hanging out in the snow after the Saturday matinee...