Should I learn Spanish instead of Chinese?

Seriously, it may sound crazy seeing as how I’m living in Taiwan and my wife and daughter speak Chinese, but. . .

a. Chinese is such a pain in the ass, with the tones, the characters, the weird grammar, etc. After 9 years living here it seems pretty clear I’ll never be able to do more with my Chinese than order dinner and give directions to taxi drivers.

b. Spanish, on the other hand, is simple. While I didn’t get very far with my 2 years of high school Spanish lessons, I was just a kid then, who didn’t know how to truly apply myself and had no great desire to really learn the language. Now, if I applied myself seriously – even without a teacher or classes – I would think it shouldn’t be that difficult to become conversational. I would love to finally be somewhat conversational in a second language.

c. Half the people in the US speak Spanish and 2/3 of those in California do, I will move back there some day and would like to be able to communicate with them in Spanish, as well as on trips to Mexico/Latin America.

d. Based on my daughter’s experience with Chinese/English/Taiwanese, I get the impression that young kids can just as easily learn 3, 4 or 5 languages at once as to learn 1 or 2, so I’d enjoy introducing her to Spanish now, while she’s still a young sponge. It would be great for her, too, to speak some basic Spanish if she moves to California at age 6 or 7, as she may well have the opportunity to study/speak it in school there.

What do you think? Would it be nuts for me to finally quit working on Chinese for good and switch over to Spanish?

Do you agree it shouldn’t be too difficult, if I’ve got the motivation, even with just books/cassettes/cds and no teacher?

Motivation is the most important factor in learning a foreign language.

Spanish is quite straightforward and teaching it has evolved a lot, meaning there are many interesting, interactive and modern materials round.

I gather you are a lawyer? Here and in the US -many Taiwan expats from Latin American countries- would also be glad to have your services in their language. Maybe not a big number of people, but a lucrative niche it may be.

Buena suerte, que disfrute su aprendizaje.

MT, I’ve heard your Chinese… I would go with Spanish in your case.


I don’t mean this as an ethnic smear at all – I know there are many hispanic doctors, lawyers, etc. – but that reminds me of a criminal defense lawyer I knew back in my home town who is fluent in Spanish and was extremely busy representing spanish speaking meth makers and drunk drivers, who were extremely grateful for his services and his fluency in their native tongue. For him it was a lucrative niche indeed, though many clients paid him in landscaping, construction services or special “agricultural” products.

To be honest, I believe it would be a much more lucrative niche being a fluent Chinese-speaking attorney in California, as I’m a corporate/tech lawyer, so much of that involves China/Taiwan, and its so much rarer to find an experienced US-born lawyer who is fluent in Chinese. In fact, that would be an extremely valuable skill and could easily double my salary. But, I’m afraid it’s not going to happen.

You may be right, though, that Spanish skills could be helpful for my career, but it’s really more a matter of something I just need to cross off on my list before I die (second language), the ability to enhance future vacations south of the border, and the chance to introduce my daughter to it (she would love learning it).

Gracias mi amigo.

Con mucho gusto.

I was thinking of the owners of certain leather and plastic factories, maritime agencies, machinery exports, etc. I know, who were born or have lived all their lives in Latin America, and whose kids feel more confortable in this language rather than Chinese -which most have forgotten how to read, I’m afraid. It is always a nice ice-breaker, anyway. But, as you say, we work with what we have.

So, learning as a hobby will be far more rewarding. It will also open more opportunities for learning for your child. If you know Spanish, you can read most of French, Italian, and other romance language stuff, so, it may spark your daughter’s interest into acquiring other languages. Furthermore, when I was little, we had Villa Alegre and Sesame Street for learning, kids now have Dora and a lot of other cools stuff. If you two guys study together it will make for a stronger bond and even more fun -she’ll be smarter than Daddy.

It’s “amiga”.

First, I see verb conjugation in Spanish as very difficult, but if you don’t have a problem with that, and instead have trouble with Mandarin tones and characters, then ok, it’s simpler for you.

Second, learn what you’re motivated to learn. Nothing trumps motivation when it comes to language learning as an adult.

So if you’re leaning in that direction, hell, go for it! :thumbsup:

Not to be mean, but while Spanish may be simpler, you’re a lot older, and memorization takes a greater effort. So in terms of effort it is going to probably take more than you expect.

I have a strong desire to improve my Mandarin but at 42 it just isn’t that easy to memorize loads of new words. Okay, it is easy, but retaining them for long is hard.

But anyway, good luck.

Do what ever interests you. Your brain is not going to get ‘full’.

I read a page of old sagas everyday. It’s ‘pointless’, but I enjoy it.

My grandfather would only converse with me in French or sometimes German and I, so I’m told, spoke back (until I was 9). Forgot most of the German, but I still understand French if you speak slowly. Don’t speak it so well, though; I haven’t been to France for more than ten years.

Which would your wife prefer you to study?

If you have creative energy and some free time that you would like to put to good use, you could do worse than writing a book. It could be a family history thingy, a racy novel about an American lawyer running wild in Asia, or a non-fiction work about something you’d like to spend time researching. The writing process is fun, and the result is satisfying. Plus, you can drink and write at the same time.

I once tried learning French through Chinese. It was just one of those basic programs that taught the basic words through translation and then went on to do a bunch of common phrases in simple dialogues. It probably would have worked if it had really slaughtered away at the basic words and structures in some sort of interesting format, and if I actually had some chance to use French. Foriegn language study works other areas of the brain than what you use as a first language learner so it seems so once you plug into that area it clicks along pretty nicely.

Perhaps there are good Spanish through Chinese programs that also contain translations into English. My French program had English and Chinese translations which was helpful because I can’t read a lick of Chinese.

Anyway, it’s a thought. You live here. Your family is half Chinese. Chinese is an up and coming language. You already put in a hell of a lot of effort.

Maybe you can learn both.

Yeah, that’s another way. I have some leaning Thai materials in Chinese, mostly because they’re easier to get hold of in Taiwan. It’s a great way of reinforcing basic vocab.

I keep telling them BC. bob is briliant, bob is brilliant, but all they see is how shiny my head is.

Without actually speaking the language on a regular basis, I think it would be quite difficult to reach any level of proficiency. I suppose there are few people running around the island that you could chat with though. You could always just talk to yourself. :wink: Being immersed in Chinese is the only way I’ve been able to learn to communicate effectively. Would be extremely difficult to learn this language if I was back in Canada. I agree though, Spanish does seem quite easy after struggling with Mandarin. Don’t give up on the Chinese yet. You can pick up the Spanish in the future.

I wish I had some convincing reason to work on improving my Spanish instead of carrying on plugging away at Mandarin. It’s a great language to learn–one of the easiest, for native speakers of English at least. Seven years ago I had workable conversational Spanish, gained from one very basic introductory textbook and three years of interacting with native Spanish-speaking friends. You can pick it up that way, unlike Mandarin. There are so many cognates.

[quote=“Mother Theresa”]Do you agree it shouldn’t be too difficult, if I’ve got the motivation, even with just books/cassettes/cds and no teacher?[/quote]Ah, that’s more of a problem, then. You can’t seriously learn a language with no interaction. You could get going with Rosetta Stone or something, but pretty soon after you start, you want to have access to some source of real live Spanish.

Get yourself a charming Spanish-speaking girlfriend like Icon, and you’ll be fluent in no time. :wink:

Wow, so many great, provocative responses. Thanks everyone. I’ll have to think it over further, but you’ve all been very helpful. Muchas gracias.

What I would do is make a dictionary and tape record it. It would be continuously updated as you learned new words and expressions in either language.

Would look like this…

Abajo - zai4 xia4mian4

despacio - man4
Por favor, hablar mas despacio - Qing3 ni3 shuo1 man4 yi1dian4

Entiendo - dong3
No entendio - bu4 dong3


If you do it this way you can learn exactly what you want, and instead of your Spanish thought processes being interupted by English they will be interupted by Chinese and every time this happens your Chinese will improve! Likely what you need is more banging away at the basics anyway.

I make a dictionary like that for studying Chinese and I tape record it about once a year. It’s about (or will soon be) about ten hours so obviously it only gets listened to about four times a year, whenever I know there is something boring to do I bring one of the tapes and review it.

The trick is to include loads of useful senetences, at least one per word…

Makes sense to me. You don’t learn a second language without installing a dictionary of the target language in your head, so if there is an actual manifestation of essentially the same dictionary on paper it has got to help, no?

Anway, something is definitley working. My wife and I are on a 2/5 schedule these days. Mon-fri: English, Sat-sun: Chinese. Pretty much stick to it, so weekends are “in” Chinese. Really helps the relationship as well.

It would be interesting to hear about someone trying this. Damn I wish I had a reason to study Spanish. I’d try it myself. I’d find the best Spanish - Chinese program I could and pull from it what I wanted.

Wow, this idea is a big hit. I should write a book.

Anyway, I went to Eslite Dunhua and checked out the Chinese => Spanish learning programs. They have two that come with CDs. “Conversacion En Espanol” is one. Don’t get that one. It doesn’t have the translation into English and Spanish being so freaking easy you might not notice.

The one you might want is “Espanol por Turista”. It has the translation and three audio CDs which I’m sure feature the performances of bright young voice professionals delivering enthusiastic performances of their native langauages, and in the modern vernacular as per de riguer in NT450 language cassetes, etc.