I have lived and worked in China for four years now, and I have to say, my mandarin is not great.
It has gone from nothing to getting-by and then back to being not great.
I have to confess that I can get along using English in the circles that I move in and the work that I do. The reason for this is that the level of English is very high.
The English language is taught at a young age and is a continued part of the curriculum throughout the years.
Study and school, in general, is a massive factor in how fast China is developing. Children attend school all day from early morning until around 5 pm, and the benefit of that stringent schooling system is that further education attendance is very high.
Everyone is studying, heading to study, looking to study… just left study or looking to attend a course to learn more. It is moving fast and growing fast, so it is such an exciting place to be.
The economy is growing, and people educate themselves and innovation, and advanced use of technology is everywhere.
Technology is where it is an advantage to me. No one frets when I whip out my phone and use an app to get across what I am looking for, and likewise, it is a common thing for Chinese people to check on an app an English word that they might be looking for clarity on or how to pronounce a particular word.
I can defend my lack of Chinese by claiming that the App can do what I need, I have enough knowledge to get by, or even I have been too busy to learn, and it is quite tricky to pronounce many of the words because I find a tone-based language a challenge.
I know that is bullsh*t.
And someone called me on it the other day, and it was a magic moment of enlightenment for me.
In all honesty, when they said it… I nodded in agreement. They were absolutely correct.
I knew it. In their wisdom, they also knew it.
They said, “It might be challenging as a language, but you challenge yourself all the time. You know little bits of the language, so you know you can do it. I think you just have NOT MADE IT YOUR PRIORITY. You have not got clear on your motivation, and that is on you.”
Boom. Right to my face.
It was a precise and critical moment for me because they called my bluff, and they were spot-on.
I have not made it my priority. I can get by, and that was enough for me.
But then I started to reflect on what they said, and I realised I am missing so much. I am missing so much of the pleasure of communicating with someone in their local language. I miss the delight that a Chinese person displays when they see and appreciate a foreigner attempting to speak in mandarin.
I know this because I used to attempt it, and it always was a great moment of joy on both sides.
Maybe I am just lazy with the App or over-reliant on my Scottish-English, which is not always the easiest because I have a broad Glaswegian accent.
And low and behold, there is yet another excuse – ‘I have a thick Glaswegian accent, which is why I struggle with the language.’
I call BullS*it on that one.
My friend was right. He is right, and he is correct on the priority thing.
I have NOT made learning the language top of my priority.
So I have decided on two things.
The first thing is to change that priority, so I am pushing the learning of Mandarin to a higher position on my priorities list. I will move it into my habit model, and like all habits, I will start small. I will stick with using the apps but take the time to learn and understand what I am saying using the App and then try and force myself off the reliance on the benefit of easy access to translation.
I will get it into my psyche that it is a journey, and it will take time, so I will have to test my perseverance and resilience.
The second thing I will do is learn from the way I was called-out on language learning.
I am going to dump the phrase “I didn’t have the time to do it.”
This phrase is not helpful. It is an easy out, and I will be removing it from how I think. I will remove it from what I say.
When I miss a deadline or run out of time, then I will be rephrasing this as “I did NOT get my priorities correct.”
The counteraction to this is to be more choice in what I agree to do.
But that is a whole other conversation going on in my head. (soon to share in another blog)
For the moment, I am putting the small-steps approach to language learning onto my priority list.
I have a lot going on now, so something will give, or I will just have to re-do my priorities.
Because one thing is for sure when I run out of time to get something done, it is because I did not get my priorities in the correct order.
I am calling myself out on that.
That is my top (two) priority.