Living abroad for the past twelve years has been living a dream. In each country I've lived, I've immersed myself in the culture through friendships, travel, and adventure. The gateway to this has always been language. Malagasy (one of the national languages of Madagascar) was hard, but the ability to communicate in rural areas was exhilarating. Arabic was even tougher, but the friendships I formed with my teachers and the looks on my students faces when I learned new phrases was priceless. Chinese is a whole new level of challenge, but I can't wait to see the rewards speaking this language will bring.
I took a few private Chinese classes at home last October and realized that the timing and format wasn't working for me. After the Spring Festival in February, I tried again - this time in a small group setting at a school 45 minutes away. I loved meeting new people and learning with them in a new area of Beijing. So, I decided to return to the school (after a eight-week break) to pick up from where I left. Yesterday I contacted the school, That's Mandarin, to arrange 1-hour lessons, twice a week and hope to start on Monday. In addition, I plan reviewing my material over breakfast each morning through their platform, Mandarin Cafe. It has a great place to review lessons, watch dialogues, and practice vocabulary. At least once a week, I'm going to practice my Chinese in a new environment, preferably restaurants where I can also try new cuisines. Last night, I went to The Blue Bank, a jazz club not far from where I live. Although it wasn't culturally Chinese, I was able to speak with the waiter in the language. I used mostly one or two word phrases and a lot of gesturing, but was proud to communicate what I wanted.
One challenge that did arise, however, was that the person I was with, a foreigner who is fluent in Chinese, wanted to speak for me. I realized that this will probably happen a lot in the next little while as people genuinely want to help, so I'll need to make sure that everyone understands my goal and how they can help me reach it.
Below is a table that I created that outlines how I plan to monitor my progress in learning Mandarin.