This is to continue the discussion about Enjoy Doing or Being Able to Do. It inspired me to think about the negative statement of the same sentence: when we don’t want to do something, do we actually dislike doing something or dislike starting doing something?
I hate to go to bed at night. I have hundreds of reasons to keep awake and doing a lot of things – most them are done online with a computer. But I hate getting up in the morning worse. Later, I understood it was the action of going to bed I dislike, instead of sleeping itself.
It is the same for bath and swim. I enjoy bathing and swimming, but I dislike the moment to go into a bath room or I enter the swimming pool – it is especially true in cold winter. So I tend to delay it as much as possible.
Similarly, I just find out after living in Shanghai to ten years, I still cannot speak Shanghainese. Do I really dislike learning Shanghainese? I don’t think so. To learn a language is interesting, especially when you are in the environment that people around you speak it everyday. My previous excuse was, I don’t need to learn it. I can live very well without being able to speak Shanghainese. I tried to make me believe it. The reason is, I don’t want to get started. Is it a sign of my initial resistant to the culture of Shanghai? Maybe.
Foreigners also fall into two category: Some of them learnt Chinese quickly within half a year. Some even master Shanghainese which surprises every local residents. We call them Zhong Guo Tong (China Master). The others completely have no idea about Chinese. Some even stayed for three or four years without learning Chinese. In my article on Is English Skills That Important, some reader asked why foreigners refuse to learn Chinese and all people (sometimes all of them are local residents) have to use English if only one person who can not understand Chinese is there? I didn’t see the commenter tend to offense anyone, just a discussion about “starting to learn Chinese.” I guess there is also a cultural resistant that prevent people from START learning a language, instead of learning the language itself.
Recently, I started to learn Shanghainese. I even learnt some Cantonese – I learnt to pronounce Hua (Flower) as Fa in Cantonese. It turned out that if we have started doing something we don’t like, it may become very interesting and rewarding afterward.
haha dont tell me u had to learn how to say Hua in cantonese.. hehe I knew this and i have never even learned cantonese. Jokes aside, I always believed, it is practically impossible to learn new languages after a certain age. Sure you can learn few words, but to master it, the tense and the exact accent is impossible. Of course there might be few people who have done it, but its very rare. Just my opinion i could be wrong. Thats why I envy Singaporean and malaysian chinese, boy they can speak Malay, English, Mandarin, Cantonese/Hokkien/Hakka. Its cool.
oh I heard that 5-10 years ago, if you didnt speak Shanghainese in Shanghai, people look down on you? same as it was in HK if you didnt speak Cantonese. My friends say it is still the case in Shanghai but at a much lesser extent. is it true?
Do you know the speaking of Shanghainese is about to extinct, lot of vocabulary made the language flourished in the ’30 are missing, speaking of Shanghainese can no longer serve the formal communication between people, yet some people use it to identify their distinction within the society.
The flourish of language is associated with wealth, it is truth with English and Cantonese.
The elders told me when the Shanghainese entrepreneur retreated to Hong Kong in the early ’50 and saw the place was so primitive. They refrained themself to learn Cantonese and speak only Shanghainese and English within their group, but local people who wish do business with them had to learn the Shanghainese instead.
Today the retailers in Hong Kong all able to speak Mandarin in order to earn the tourist dollars from China.
See the trend Now?
Jianshuo, I’m pretty sure you do not have to learn Shanghai dialect, as not being able to say it does not really lower the convenience level of living in Shanghai now. This time I found Mandarin is much more widely accepted and used than it ever was. Actually I sometimes speak in Mandarin with my friends of Shanghai origin, or use lots of words in Mandarin (the switching between dialects came just so natually).
Of course, speaking in local dialect sounds more fun. It takes some efforts to practise, unless you don’t have anything better to do… :D
As to those foreigners who live in China for a while but do not learn Chinese, it can be simply lack of interests and necessity. Of course one can live in a foreign country (maybe for business purpose), and be totally uninterested in local cultures. My mom lived in Thailand for 2+ years, and didn’t intend to study Thai at all. She studied some Spanish when she’s in Panama, figuring that Spanish could be useful. In both cases speaking English was already enough for living comfortably. So for foreigners not intending to get more involved with locals, it is OK to stay within their own language circles, as long as China tolerates English-speaking-only people as it does now.
Brilliant! I came to your site looking at your perspective on the maglev but ran across this posting on… well, I would call it ‘procrastination’ issues. But with the concept of discipline in general in mind – I love your point and example and find it true: I don’t like to start the thing I don’t want to do, it’s not that I don’t like the activity.
I would add… I think not wanting to start things usually has to do with my fear of failure or other fear. So having the vision or faith that things will or can happen really helps me “get started.”
I think Chinese dialects in general are far less important than they used to be and having good Mandarin skills is critical. As more and more Chinese leave their hometowns or do business outside of where they live, they realize how important Mandarin skills are. If you are in Shanghai, the ability to speak Shanghainese will be of some assistance if you are trying to collect stories from the older generations or getting a better bargain when buying daily items. Outside of that, there isn’t much good that it will do for you.
As for foreigners learning Chinese, many don’t choose to be sent to China and are “stuck” there. Even if they are there for a number of years, perhaps their work hours are so great that it gives them almost no free time or they just consider China a brief stop before going back home or going off to another country. I think these are major reasons why this is the case a lot of foreigners working in China don’t learn Chinese.
Do realize that picking up another language is harder for some people. I’m one of those. I lived with a Shanghainese woman in the US for six years and the only Chinese phrase that I could make stick in my head was “Wah I Knee” (“I love you” in Chinese). Now if you only could get one Chinese phrase to stick, that is probably the best. ;-) However, it wasn’t from lack of trying to learn other Chinese words and phrases. Just an aptitude thing. Years before I took the Johnson O’Connors Aptitude Test (http://www.jocrf.org/) in Chicago and found out that I just have a very low aptitude for acquiring new languages. I’m in the top 1% for deductive and inductive reasoning, but in the bottom 5% for language acquisition. So please keep this in mind when you encounter foreigners that don’t speak the local language. It might not because of indifference or lack of trying. It might just be really difficult for them to do so.
Why they say 万事开头难 （Every thing is simply hard to begin).
Ni3 Hao3. Shang4 Hai3.
Being an German who learn and speak Mandarin in Germany and never visit China, I think the foreigner who has the chance to stay in China should grab the chance to pick up the language.
Anyway just wondering in daily occasion like buying meal….is it neccessarly to speak Shanghainese in Shanghai or just speak Pu3 Tong1 Hua4 to the waiter?
to Hunk Gym:
I think Mandarin is enough for you… ;)
Boran, you are right in your last sentence. I want to learn, and have even bought software and so on. But, I am always too busy doing my work (and reading Jianshuo’s blog :-)
I can guide a taxi, know many streets of Shanghai, know the numbers and many other things. My collegues think that I know a lot.
But talking chinese fluently is too time consuming to learn at the moment.
And I never know when I will go back to my own country….
carsten, Obtain the title of “Zhong Guo Tong” when you return to the country where you came from may benefit you many years to come, of course it starts with the language.
People tend to do things that are easy or they are good at. When facing something new or being uncertain of the result, they start to challenge their own confidence. Like anything else, the decision making process is always the tough part (e.g. in a break-up of the relationship :P), once the decision is made, it will be all tast related. So making the decision of starting something makes that “something” difficult.
By the way, just drop by your blog, it is great. Way to go!
It has been a year you posted this article? How is your Shanghainese language coming up?
any website that teaches Shanghainese? I would like to learn too..
how can I get it as pdf