Saturday, March 10, 2007

spitting and communication--stages of learning mandarin--bill cosby

Many people have recently asked me: what is Mandarin? Is it fun to learn? How many years do I need to devote to learning it?

Of course, the answer to all of these questions is "no." Why? Well, let me explain each one separately.

What is Mandarin?

Mandarin is a complex language in the Sino-Tibetan language family. It is composed of sounds, grunts, and spitting and mastery of all three takes persistence, patience, and intelligence (indeed, if you are stupid, or an idiot, I do not recommend trying to learn Mandarin). It is spoken or understood by roughly one quarter of the world's population and is not at all related to Slovenian.

Is it fun to learn?

As any well trained EFL professional will tell you, learning languages is fun. This is a great big lie. Learning languages is hard and it hurts both your brain and your spleen. If somebody honestly believes learning languages is fun then they're obviously not aiming for fluency and are instead learning all the swear words they can.

How many years does it take?

Many people have compared learning Mandarin Chinese to climbing a mountain. This is a very accurate comparison, as in both instances, if you are inexperienced or stupid, you will probably die before reaching your goal. That being said, my answer to this question is at least one, but probably ninety years.

The Boisen-Hegelbauminen Stages of Learning Mandarin Chinese

For those of you smart enough to be able to tackle Mandarin and dumb enough to actually try it, let me give you an introduction to something known as the "Boisen-Hegelbauminen Stages of Learning Mandarin Chinese." The six stages were thought up one hundred years ago by Boisen-Hegelbauminen, a German watch manufacturer fluent in German, Italian, and Dutch.

1. East-Asian Fetishist Stage: Everything about Asia is mystical and cool and gives you funny feelings in your toes that you can't understand. You determine that you have to learn an East Asian language. You choose Chinese because you are a total fucking nerd, but you don't like anime, and Korea has always bored you.

2. College Chinese: You learn a lot of things that are totally useless. Your Chinese sucks. Snobs like me hate it when you talk because it sounds so awful. We put you down whenever we can. Everyone would be happier if you just gave up.

3. Move to China: You either get accepted into a language program or pretend to be an English teacher, like me. Now you think your Chinese is good solely because you're living here, while, in fact, it has gotten worse. This is because you believe in the myth that "language immersion" without hardcore studying somehow results in rapid acquisition of a language and moreover, that you are actually immersed in Chinese in China. You are not. You are immersed in bad English and your own wretched vocabulary, which is good for pointing at things and then adding an adjective or two.

4. Nine: Suddenly you realize that actual mastery of the language is an exhausting, labor intensive process that will absorb many of the remaining years of your life. Either you give up or you go full steam ahead. If you don't give up and instead keep pushing yourself, you will suddenly start making actual progress, but will also realize that each step forward does not get you observably closer to your ultimate goal.

5. Yellow-Green: You can have conversations. People like talking to you and you like talking to them. Learning the language actually is fun now, because you can actually use it to talk about things. Fluency is just around the corner, by which I mean fluency is still two or three years of endless toil away.

6. Bill Cosby: You can finally speak Chinese fluently. Everyone applauds your perseverance, intelligence, and good looks. You turn on Chinese television and watch it for four hours straight, understanding everything. You realize you have just wasted 5-6 years of your life. Realizing this makes you hungry, so you go eat some twice cooked pork. You reflect on the meaning of the word "barnacle."

So, that's what you can expect while learning Mandarin Chinese. I hope it makes you despondent and contemplate giving up before you begin. Currently I am at stage 4.5. I am eagerly awaiting my ascendancy to stage five. If you would like to help me in my goal of reaching the yellow-green stage, please send me money. Thank you.

Addendum: I should also note that there is another outline of the stages to learning Mandarin here, but it's not as good as the Boisen-Hegelbauminen system, as it clearly lacks a Bill Cosby stage.



Anonymous Zhao Jingxuan said...

Oh, my God... I moved to China, study chinese 5 hours a day (plus 2 hours class) and my oral Chinese still sucks after one year and a half living here, in which stage am I?? I even didn't pass the fetishist stage, would it be the cause...? Help me!!!

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think I've arrived at stage four (ahem, Nine). At least now I can stop wondering why my spleen hurts and focus instead on the "endless toil" ahead. Thanks, Boisen-Hegelbaum! --Channa

6:37 AM  
Blogger KMM said...

Zhao, it sounds like your well into stage 4, also known as nine, which is quite good. It's probably best if you never went through a fetishist stage, as that means that I no point in your study of Mandarin would I have wanted to punch you.

Channa, the more I can remind people of the endless toil in their lives, the happier I am.

11:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I give you:

long, but hilarious and relevant read (at least it was for me).


3:04 AM  

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