To take a break from the family woes, let’s talk about what I’ve been up to since I got to DC back in September: Chinese language classes!

Many of you know that Chinese was my major in college and that I’ve been a couple of times.  So, I know a bit about studying the language already.

Here’s the main thing about Chinese:  When you start, it’s really, really hard.  Nothing, other than the basic grammar, makes a lick of sense.  Wait, how does this (羊) mean sheep?  And why does putting that with big (大) like so (美) suddenly mean beautiful?  (And America, for crying out loud.)  There are no cognates, except for some food items (tofu=doufu, coffee=kafei).  And, of course, tones.  The way I pronounce the sound ma can mean mother, marijuana, horse, to scold, or just turn a statement into a question.

But, unlike some languages (French, Russian, etc.), the more you learn the more manageable it gets.  There are no crazy tenses, no “politeness” levels, no declensions.  Subordinate phrases in a sentence can be tricky, mostly due to a lack of punctuation, but no worse than any other language.  Some even just get turned into modifying phrases (instead of “the ball that hit the car” you’d just have “the hit-the-car ball”).

So, in short, I feel like I’m getting somewhere.  (Your tax dollars aren’t being completely wasted here!) Part of it is the sheer amount of class time  I have 3-6 hours of Chinese class a day, depending on the day.  A typical day is two hours of reading class in the morning, with three hours of speaking in the afternoon.  (Short days cut out two hours of speaking; long days throw in an extra hour of “consular Chinese” class.)  The program is good; it’s intense, but it never feels overly stressful.  The Chinese I used to know came back VERY quickly, and for the last several months I’ve been learning almost all new words.  I feel confident that I’ll pass my test, and maybe even score high enough to earn a bonus.  (Most people in my program do.)

This is just one more way I’m a lucky, lucky man.  I’m getting paid to learn a language, before being sent for two years to use it.  Despite other problems in my life, I’m going to continue counting my blessings.


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