Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

by Deborah Fallows
Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

Dreaming in Chinese: Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language

by Deborah Fallows

eBook

$10.99  $14.40 Save 24% Current price is $10.99, Original price is $14.4. You Save 24%.

Available on Compatible NOOK Devices and the free NOOK Apps.
WANT A NOOK?  Explore Now

Related collections and offers

LEND ME® See Details

Overview

Deborah Fallows has spent much of her life learning languages and traveling around the world. But nothing prepared her for the surprises of learning Mandarin, China's most common language, or the intensity of living in Shanghai and Beijing. Over time, she realized that her struggles and triumphs in studying the language of her adopted home provided small clues to deciphering the behavior and habits of its people,and its culture's conundrums. As her skill with Mandarin increased, bits of the language-a word, a phrase, an oddity of grammar-became windows into understanding romance, humor, protocol, relationships, and the overflowing humanity of modern China.

Fallows learned, for example, that the abrupt, blunt way of speaking that Chinese people sometimes use isn't rudeness, but is, in fact, a way to acknowledge and honor the closeness between two friends. She learned that English speakers' trouble with hearing or saying tones-the variations in inflection that can change a word's meaning-is matched by Chinese speakers' inability not to hear tones, or to even take a guess at understanding what might have been meant when foreigners misuse them.

In sharing what she discovered about Mandarin, and how those discoveries helped her understand a culture that had at first seemed impenetrable, Deborah Fallows's Dreaming in Chinese opens up China to Westerners more completely, perhaps, than it has ever been before.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780802779243
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing
Publication date: 09/07/2010
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: eBook
Pages: 208
File size: 4 MB

About the Author

Deborah Fallows has lived in Shanghai and Beijing and traveled throughout China for three years with her husband, writer James Fallows. She is a Harvard graduate and has a PhD in Linguistics, and is author of A Mother's Work (Houghton Mifflin). She most recently worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and in data architecture for Oxygen Media. When in the US, she and her husband live in Washington, DC. They have two sons and two daughters-in-law.
Deborah Fallows has lived in Shanghai and Beijing and traveled throughout China for three years with her husband, writer James Fallows. She is a Harvard graduate and has a PhD in Linguistics, and is author of A Mother's Work (Houghton Mifflin). She most recently worked in research and polling for the Pew Internet Project and in data architecture for Oxygen Media. When in the US, she and her husband live in Washington, DC. They have two sons and two daughters-in-law.

Read an Excerpt

DREAMING IN CHINESE

Mandarin Lessons in Life, Love, and Language
By DEBORAH FALLOWS

Walker & Co.

Copyright © 2010 Deborah Fallows
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-8027-7913-7


Introduction

I first saw China in the summer of 1986. My husband and I had packed up our then small children, left our home in Washington, DC, and gone to live in Japan and Southeast Asia for four years. We jumped at a chance that came our way to visit China for several weeks, after living in Tokyo and before heading for Kuala Lumpur.

The China we visited then was still emerging from the Cultural Revolution. Most of the young people, dressed in their drab Mao suits or simple, cheap clothes, were seeing Westerners for the first time. They would race to scoop up our blond children in their arms for pictures and to practice "Hello! Hello!" in English. The Chinese who greeted us were light and playful; we felt their high-spirited welcome, especially after the constraints of living in traditional, culture-bound Japan.

My recollections of that brief time are in snapshots: I bought bottles of bright orange soda that lay cooling on slabs of ice in vendors' carts. We went to the Beijing zoo, which was dreary and untidy, to look for pandas. The skies in Beijing and Shanghai and Hangzhou were clear and blue. We guessed that the cheerless Stalinist government rest houses where we stayed were probably bugged. On our domestic airliner flying to the south of China, we sat toward the front of the plane in big overstuffed armchairs and held our collective breath on take off, peering through gaps in the floorboards to see the tarmac racing by below.

Almost 20 years later, my husband and I set off to return to China for three years, where he would be reporting and writing long stories for the Atlantic. I would be working on my research for the Pew Internet Project, looking at Internet use in China. This excursion fit into the pattern of our life, alternating several years at home in Washington, DC, with several years out exploring the world.

We knew before we headed to China again that our old memories would seem quaint and charming, and that we would be in for a different kind of adventure this time in a modern, booming China. We did what we could to prepare: went to movies, read books, looked online, studied maps, talked to people who had been there before us. We got a glimpse here and an insight there, but we knew it wasn't adding up to much of anything. In the end we took a leap of faith and boarded the plane for Shanghai.

I did one other thing to prepare: I studied Mandarin a few nights a week for a few terms at Georgetown University in DC, figuring that a jump-start on the language could only help as we tried to set up some kind of normal life in China. I have been studying languages and linguistics for almost all my life, and at least the process of studying the language felt comfortable to me, even if the language did not.

Our entry to China was rough. The first month went by in a daze, but our first impressions and experiences remain perfectly vivid to me: I could not recognize or utter a single word of the Chinese I had been studying, and I even wondered if my teacher had been teaching us Cantonese instead of Mandarin. My husband said, in an anxious sweat, "I will never learn enough about China to write anything."

The hot Shanghai wind blew at 40 knots for many days, like the famous Santa Anas in California. My husband was very, very sick for ten days from drinking the water. We wondered if we were being followed, or if our phones were tapped.

Slowly, of course, everything began to change. My teacher had indeed been teaching me Mandarin, although without the heavy Shanghai accent I heard all around me and later sorted out. My husband went on to write many, many articles about China and had the journalistic time of his life. We became immune to every germ we ran into and were never really sick again in China. The weather changed, although we grew never to expect the skies to be clear or the air to be fresh. We know people were indeed watching us, but far from being a bother, they would invite us out to lunch to keep an eye on us and were friendly.

As for the language, the longer we were in China, the more engaged I became with Chinese. Part of that experience was true tribulation: I worked and studied hard but felt like I was only inching forward, my progress barely measurable. Eventually, finally, I marked a few milestones, cause for much self-congratulation that was generally noted only by me: the first day I ventured out without my dictionary and did OK; my first complete phone conversation in Chinese; the first time I followed the entire plot of a soap opera episode on TV; and my pièce de resistance, the day I chewed out a Shanghai taxi driver in Chinese for an egregious overcharge, and got a refund of 100 rénmínbi (then about twelve US dollars).

The language paid me back in ways I hadn't fully anticipated. It was my lifeline to our everyday survival in China. My language foibles, many of which I have recounted in this book, taught me as much as my rare and random successes. The language also unexpectedly became my way of making some sense of China, my telescope into the country. Foreigners I met and knew in China used their different passions to help them interpret China: artists used China's art world, as others used Chinese cooking, or traditional medicine, or business, or music, or any number of things they knew about. I used the language, or more precisely, the study of the language.

As I tried to learn to speak Mandarin, I also learned about how the language works—its words, its sounds, its grammar and its history. I often found a connection between some point of the language—a particular word or the use of a phrase, for example—and how that point could elucidate something very "Chinese" I would encounter in my everyday life in China. The language helped me understand what I saw on the streets or on our travels around the country—how people made their livings, their habits, their behavior toward each other, how they dealt with adversity, and how they celebrated.

This book is the story of what I learned about the Chinese language, and what the language taught me about China.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from DREAMING IN CHINESE by DEBORAH FALLOWS Copyright © 2010 by Deborah Fallows. Excerpted by permission of Walker & Co.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Introduction 11

1 Wo ài ni;! I love you! The grammar of romance 17

2 Bú yào! Don't want, don't need! When rude is polite 29

3 Shi, Shí, Shi, Shí Lion, ten, to make, to be Language play as a national sport 39

4 Dabao Do you do takeout? Why the Chinese hear tones, and we don't 51

5 Laobaixìng Common folk China's Ordinary Joe 63

6 Ni hao, Wo jiào Mínyì. Hello, my name is Public A brief introduction to Chinese names 77

7 Dongbei Eastnorth Finding your way in China-the semantics of time and place 89

8 Wo, Ni, Ta, Ta, Ta I, you, he, she, it Disappearing pronouns and the sense of self 103

9 Rènao Hot-and-noisy Think like the Chinese think 115

10 Ting bú dong. I don't understand. A billion people; countless dialects 129

11 Hànzí Characters The essence of being Chinese 145

12 Bù keyi Not allowed Rules to follow and rules to break 157

13 Dìzhèn Earthquake Out of calamity, tenderness 169

14 Ni de Zhongwén hen hao! Your Chinese is really good! A little goes a long way 183

Pronunciation guide 191

Acknowledgments 203

From the B&N Reads Blog

Customer Reviews