Wednesday, June 21, 2006

More Mandarin Mania

Another Mandarin-learning story, this one in Time Asia: Get Ahead, Learn Mandarin. The article is mainly about students in other Asian countries learning Mandarin for business purposes. I don't think it's very surprising that Chinese and Cambdians, say, doing business together might want to use one of their native languages rather than English.

In the same issue is an article by a reporter who went through the famous Middlebury program, in which students make a pledge to only speak the target language. She writes:
About a month after I turned 21, I experienced a second infancy. I had enrolled for the summer at Middlebury College's Chinese School in the U.S. state of Vermont and signed a pledge that for nine weeks, on penalty of expulsion, I would not speak, listen, read or write in English, my native tongue. I couldn't speak a word of Chinese. When my teacher gave me a card with my new Chinese name, Zhai Shuzhen, I couldn't pronounce it. I didn't even know how to say hello.
I have always been sceptical of this kind of "target language only" education--why go round and round trying to describe something you don't know how to say? Of course, the answer is that the process of going round and round gets you talking, and I recently met someone who swears by this program. That person also had pretty decent tones. I imagined it would be pretty tough to start learning a language in such a program--when you can't even say "hello"--but some people say that's the best time. Maybe if someone had forced me to speak Japanese I'd be better at it.