I have real thoughts! Why can’t anybody understand me??
In the Beginning
When I first came to China I had only studied and practiced Chinese in the United States, and not even very much there! I didn’t know very many words, and had never had to rely on my language skills to get my necessities.
The first week, we were with a tour of China. Our tour guide spoke enough English that it made it fun to practice my Chinese while we were out and about, and if I got misunderstood, I would just ask for his help fixing the situation. I didn’t really think what it would be like when we were on our own.
Once we were on our own though, it was quite the shock! Right off, I had a huge amount of compassion for all of the non-English speaking people who come to the United States and try to move along with their life goals, all the while learning a foreign language. Some people here were really patient and seemed flattered that I wanted to learn their language so much. Some people were irritated that I couldn’t communicate very well. When I had the chance though, I’d practice with the patient people, and now many of them are my friends! They even want us to come back and visit sometime. It was really nice of them to be patient with me.
When I started learning new words at school and at home with our Chinese family, I was excited to use them to communicate better. I became able to express myself more, and got better in fulfilling our needs. It was really exciting to be able to talk to people and understand more and more what was going on around me.
Now when we go out, a lot of the people who I met in the beginning comment about how good my language skills have become. I don’t really feel like my skills have grown that much, but Rachael says that she can understand less and less as I have conversations with people. She doesn’t get to go to school, so she hasn’t been able to learn as much. Still though, she has learned a lot more than most other foreigners who come to China. A lot of foreigners come for work and don’t really spend time having to learn the language. It is common for foreigners to live in China for years, and still not even be able to tell a taxi driver where they need to go.
It’s been really exciting to have the language open up and be able to understand more what is going on around me. I like being in touch with my environment and understanding what’s happening, and how to get what we need from where we live.