January 30, 2013 | Mandarin
A Massage, with Chinese
In which I speak some Chinese face down on a table with an elbow in my back.
Today I got a Chinese massage. The woman who gave it to me is from Beijing, and she has given me a massage before.
Unlike some of her co-workers, she knows quite a bit of English. I like to demonstrate my latest language acquisitions when I see her every 2-3 weeks.
Pimsleur Walk: Earlier This Week I Practiced Chinese in the Southern End of Central Park
I have been trying to do more Pimsleur walks so I can speed up the rate of these acquisitions. I’m closing in on the end of Pimsleur’s Level II, but I wanted to be done with Level III by now!
Anyway, today on my stomach with my face smushed into that round doughnuty pillow thing they give you at a lot of massage places, I tried to enunciate the following, loudly enough so that it would carry through the hole in the table, down to the floor, and back up towards where she stood over me: Wǒ xǐhuan dǎ wǎngqiú. (I like to play tennis.)
She laughed and told me I had a good accent.
“How do you know?” I asked. “Are you sure you know what I said?”
“Yes,” she said, and swung an imaginary tennis racket.
Since I was on a roll, a minute later I told her, “I prefer to go bowling.” Wǒ gèng xǐhuan dǎ bǎolíngqiú. (I hope my transcriptions are right; I can’t promise anything.)
One problem I have had is making clear to her when I am actually conversing with her and when I am just reciting for her the latest sentences I have learned from Pimsleur, in order to see whether she can understand me. This was one of those cases.
“Where do you play tennis?” she asked.
“I don’t,” I said. “It’s just that I learned how to say that.”
She laughed again. And then knocked the knots right out of me!
There was more, by the way: a little actual conversation. Not just me talking about sports I rarely play. I was better at producing sentences than understanding her responses, but for sure it wasn’t the first time in human history that such an imbalance has been observed.
I think this is such a great way to motivate yourself to learn a language: think of someone you know who speaks what you want to speak (it is even better if they barely speak your native language), and then each time you see him or her, see how much further you can get in conversation.
It doesn’t have to be someone you know well.
It can be someone at the post office, your doctor’s office, a bakery, a clothing store. It can be your neighbor or your manicurist or your professor or your bus driver. It can be an in-law or the toll-booth attendant. It can be the cute girl you would like to date, or the guy who hands you your coffee in the morning.
Every new piece you learn helps unlock the relationship!