Today, I read on Facebook a friend of mine wants to quit her current bachelor’s degree and start Chinese next year at uni. My first thought was “she’s crazy”. This may seem a little odd as my major is Chinese.
Chinese is great. Really, it is. Every now and again, when reading a text in Chinese, I stop and look, really look and think “wow, this is nothing like my own language and I understand this. It’s an amazing feeling. Talking to Beijingers in the street easily, without a dictionary and getting most of what they say is ego boosting to say the least.
On the other hand, Chinese is the bane of my life. Not a day goes by I don’t have to practice my characters, or my reading, or my writing, or my listening, or my speaking. The work goes on and on and on, because Chinese fluency is stupidly difficult to attain. Also, you have to come to grips with the fact that you will NEVER be able to read every single character, as there are tens of thousands and many are rarely used, and are very specific. It’s like being expected to know every single word in the English dictionary. Face it, it won’t happen. In addition to this, you may be feeling quite confident and suddenly be knocked down by a particularly difficult-to-understand shopkeeper, or other person with whom your interaction isn’t so successful.
Chinese is frustrating. There are many times when I would happily have thrown in the towel, wiped my hands and declared myself finished with characters forever. However, I haven’t yet. Why not? Well, I never would have forgiven myself for one. A little hard work (well, heaps of hard work) for a new language is worth the toil and trouble. It’s also comforting to know I’m not the only one struggling. All my classmates are too, no matter how effortless some make it seem. No one likes spending all their free time writing out characters. But hey, after 18 months of slaving my Chinese isn’t bad, and it improves faster and faster. Maybe my friend isn’t so crazy. Good luck to her!