Oh Grasshopper, this is definitely a common problem you have posed. IronLady please do something about this. I will definitely support a magazine project. I have read some of your other posts and it seems you have the “right” stuff. It does not have to be too formal at first. Web sites are cheap to rent. You should be like the “Editor” and we can all contribute pieces or until you can find “professionals”. The important thing is to hell with everyone and just start
For years now, I have searched high and low and have found really no suitable material to close the ‘gap’ between being able to read the general “lower-intermediate” books that some universities or Chinese language centres produce for the “foreigner” and the general material that native speakers feed on everyday: newspaper, magazines, novels, etc.
What is the point of a language if you cannot go beyond a "3- month’s” French course? What is the point of life if you have been studying for 5; or even 10 years and you still can’t read more than the subtitles in a movie? Those who can’t even do that I would ask to try a different language, seriously. Spanish is good. I hear it is increasingly popular.
For the rest: You are no more fluent than Hong Kong people trying to speak a foreign language like Putonghua. Don’t let the colour of skin fool you. It is a bit like the ways Chinese people feel about “White” skin people and their ability to speak English. There is not much correlation here according to a recent govt survey especially in terms of fluency between a Hong Kong Chinese and a waiguoren. (only 12% of HK highly educated elite can understand Mandarin even though it is an official language now)
Every year that goes by, I get increasingly jealous of the mounting material that publishers and writers and so called “English Experts” produce for English language learners and the stuff they have on hand to teach the language, while we foreign Chinese language learners have to struggle with “photocopies” of newspapers from 1982, or 1985. (a typical book/instruction material you get at the Chinese University of Hong Kong- btw the world’s most expensive Chinese language course - yes fees are even higher than Yale). Two years ago I was in Taiwan and the university fare there are similar as well: black and white pictures of newspaper cuttings from the CKS era – all about dams and electricity shortages and housing in Taiwan.
Then of course there is the other problem of looking up words in C-E dictionaries. They didn’t have the red Oxford EC-CE dictionary until a few years ago. Even then I had to throw away the first Edition. (Fonts too small)
Every “advanced” learner of Chinese I came across faced this “gap” and still no one came up with an efficient way to close this gap.
This is my “understanding”: It was all about making money as far back as I can remember when I started 1990. The more students they had the more satisfied the Chinese teachers (or the language centres) were. They were even reluctant to speak frankly about their (teaching) problems as I was really a “nosey” student and I was anxious to get ahead as quickly as possible.
I had an idea at one time to produce a software dictionary to ease the “look up” in dictionary because I was working in IT. I thought since the Universities were “professional”, having their name behind the software/invention would be a good selling point for this software. Are they interested? Well I was too naive. Anyway several unsuccessful attempts to get capital, expertise etc… and I gave up. Then I found some company in Taiwan(Dr EYE) had produce one although it was geared for the English language learners’ market as usual, as always. The other day Christine posted another brand, made by some software company in Canada which is probably better but I haven’t had time to investigate that one.
Anyway one thing led to another and my “dictionary” idea became superseded by another idea: a web site magazine. I even had a few mandarin teachers to write out the lessons but they were only interested in the “beginners (gweilo) level”. This was during the so call dot.com boom around early 2000. They weren’t really interested in helping people get to newspaper reading level at all. They felt that it was too hard a goal for most learners especially foreigners (white skin folks). Their general thinking was “foreigners” are only fascinated about Chinese like trying out a Chinese girlfriend of wife.
"The vast majority are not really serious learners (even after WTO).” “Let’s be serious,” they would say, “can you really imagine them talking to businessmen in China in Chinese! Negotiating? Most foreigners can’t stick to it for more than a few years. So just teach them the pinyin or bopomofo and in about a year or two at the most they will quit. We will make enough money just doing the basics. It is too tough trying to get them to any higher level and anyway why would a gweilo need Chinese?”
So that was the attitude I was faced with. No moral support, no imagination other than a need to make a buck. BTW I am not talking down Chinese teachers, is just that I was trying to start a business and this was really the “reality” as some Chinese teachers saw it in their business.
I am sure some teachers had genuine interests in trying to help foreigners learn Chinese but even I could see that there were too many excuses for foreigners to give up. In many ways their approach is not much different then those that produce countless English learning materials especially grammer exercises and explaination. I never understood grammer until I trained as an English teacher at the British Council. Not much of it really helps the student but it just feeds their “insecurity”.
Anyway the dot.com came and went and I am still here, struggling with my Chinese. And one thing really keeps me going even though I feel at times I am nowhere significant with my Putonghua and that is: Hong Kong people, for once in their life have to speak Putonghua!
Imagine this. Prior to the handover, 1997, the then British govt did not have a Chinese language policy. All or most foreigners could not care less. Cantonese was taken in as Chinese by most people that mattered. Most Hong Kongers just spoke Cantonese. Struggling to learn Mandarin or Putonghua was a complete waste of time especially at the “advance” level. (When are u going to use it?) The only other people doing something so ludicrous were some really eccentric gweilos and these oddballs usually had a thing about languages and could usually already speak French or German and took courses in linguistics as a hobby. Their jobs as sinologist also give them a whole new meaning. I am a science man working in everyday life. Anyway long story. I am so grateful I can now look “down” on some people and feel like I have achieve somewhere.
IronLady, do you have any resemblance to Britain’s Iron Lady (Maggie Thatcher)? We desperately need you to lead us to greater heights in Chinese!
Cheers, have a swig of Drambuie, it is really quite nice. It goes well with crepes as well.