I have completed level 1 in Mandarin! Yay!
What this means: I can bargain in Chinese and while not getting bargains that locals would, I can hold my own price and get it. I can say "how much is this?" "I live in Beijing" "That’s waaaay too expensive" "lower it a little more" "that’s not that cheap" and other handy phrases. I get cultural literacy points for having a smile on my face, not getting mad, not taking it personally and hence not taking the fun out of it.
Today I went to a traditional pharmacy and bought some cough syrup for Caetano, in Chinese.
I eavesdropped on my driver making plans to meet his wife (presumably) at a bar after work.
I went to a local food-court-type table, ordered noodles without meat and found out where to pay. I ended up sharing a table with 3 local girls who for the first half of their meal together only talked about the food before moving on to topics that I couldn’t understand.
I’m still too shy to have a real conversation with someone because my vocabulary is still very basic and understanding is hard. But I’ll get there someday. I try a lot of stuff out on my driver who corrects me.
I watch kids shows in Chinese and understand 20%, but it’s stuff like "never" "so" "but" "excuse me" "thank you" and such. Lots of gaps in meaning!
Caetano can say "I want milk" "hello" and "goodbye." He learned a really cute little song in Mandarin about friends, and he says the words great but doesn’t understand what any of them mean.
Carlos, between his hour a day at school and two hours with a private tutor one night a week, is picking up some phrases and getting the confidence to try them out on the few non-English Chinese he encounters, such as the cafeteria ladies. He felt pretty empowered to say he wanted rice the other day ("Wo yao mifan"). His accent is totally cute and his pronounciation is great. His tutor is impressed with him, but he has almost no opportunity to practice!
While having an English speaking housekeeper has made life easy for me, it has eliminated one of the few chances the kids have to learn Chinese. I’ve asked her to speak to them in Chinese, but she is a little shy and the boys hate it since they know she is "teaching" them I guess. There are kids here whose parents work, and spending 3 hours a day with "Ayi" has them understanding and speaking quite a bit.
I thought about having a local teenager play with them in Chinese, but someone informed me that after age 10 all Chinese kids are studying their butts off.
Carlos and Caetano will go to a little camp over Christmas break that has Chinese teachers. We’ll see how that goes.
Meanwhile, we’ll just keep talking to each other about our food in Mandarin!