It will only take 8 minutes to read this post!
Written by WrittenChinese.Com Ambassador, Will Newcomb
I never had a desire to go to China. And I certainly had no inkling that one day I’d be learning Chinese!
But that was before I met Yvonne on the internet.
In my ‘youth’ I’d always had the thought that 25 would be a good age to get married. Enough time to go to college and get a few years work under my belt, AND do a bit of travelling. So I’d worked in South Africa for 3 years and had a year off sailing across the Atlantic and around the Caribbean. Coming back to England I thought it would be nice if I met someone that I could be with for the rest of my life.
Somehow, that never happened. I did have a few serious relationships but they nearly always seemed to be long distance ones across the other side of the world – USA or Australia. None would have caused any linguistic challenges.
But when I reached 59 it looked as though ‘it’ would never happen. So what to do? Why not try ‘the internet’. So I joined an internet dating agency and began writing to people that I thought might be compatible and accessible – hopefully in or near London. But somehow that didn’t happen.
So the ‘net’ widened, taking in South America and then Asia. It always seemed to be the same though. Little interest.
Eventually I thought I’d try writing to some Chinese women on the dating agency site. Well, this seemed to be different. They actually replied! But still it would get to the third email and things would dry up.
At the end of September 2008 I wrote to this attractive woman who only had the briefest of profiles on the site. But she wrote back. Yeah! And a week later she had written back at least 4 times to my replies. This was new territory!
A month later and almost daily emails we decided to dispense with the dating site and just use normal email. We were both having to pay for the service, around £40 a month for me.
But the emails continued and I was impressed with her English language skills.
Then one day in December things changed. Suddenly her language changed! She started calling me ‘babe’ which she’d never done in previous emails. And finally red flags started jumping out of the page when she signed herself by a different name!
What on earth was going on?
All was revealed when I challenged her. Or rather, all was revealed when I challenged her translator! She was working through a Chinese agency which acted as a go-between and translated my English into Chinese and vice-versa.
She couldn’t speak a word of English! Just like me, I couldn’t speak a word of Chinese! And the language change was due to a change of translator who introduced something else to the emails!
Having got past that hurdle seemed to be time to meet but that had to be delayed several months since I had a total hip replacement booked. But in June 2009 we finally had two weeks together.
My, was I nervous waiting for my bags at Changsha airport. I could see her and some friends waving to me while I waited. I was terrified. I said to myself, ‘another fine mess you’ve got yourself into!’
But being together for a few minutes I knew it was going to be ok.
3 months before I’d bought a copy of Rosettastone and had been working on out in all my free time. But ‘我喜欢一些苹果’ doesn’t get you very far when in a developing relationship! Luckily we had a translator with us for the first two days and after that we bought an electronic translator. We spent every day together exploring her home town and went on a 5 day bus trip to the mountains. We could walk everywhere hand in hand but if we wanted to chat we’d have to stop and type into our electronic box to communicate.
Having met initial caution from some of her family, by the end of the 2 weeks they seemed happy with me, including her 22 year-old daughter.
Back home I joined some local authority conversational Chinese classes and continued with Rosettastone and we embarked on our email exchanges again but this time only moderated by Google translate or similar. 5 months later she was in the UK visiting me for 2 months getting to know my family and friends (as much as you can do with very limited vocabulary).
We married in July 2010 in China. I worked on a short wedding speech in Chinese and got her daughter to check it. But of course my tones were all wrong and I had everyone in fits of laughter. Yvonne stepped in and repeated each phrase in a way that everyone could comprehend. We got by.
After another 3 months she got her English Visa and joined me in London. I continued with my evening classes despite being rather frustrated by them. Often the books they used changed mid term and many of the students (mostly retired folk) stopped coming after a while. And still I was only learning characters with Rosettastone. I love the program but written characters are only formed by typing the pin yin. No hand writing and the chance to develop ‘muscle memory’.
Yvonne meanwhile worked day and night on her English Rosettastone and went to college twice a week. She worked her socks off. The study I did was obviously outside of working hours. Now she’s fluent but a little slow.
I found that with the evening classes and work I didn’t have time to use Rosettastone. I finally gave up on the classes as I wasn’t getting anywhere with them.
another teacher told me about some classes run by a university professor who taught at SOAS (London university School of Oriental and African Studies) during the daytime and ran his own classes in the evening. These were different. Writing Chinese was an essential part of his courses and the students kept coming. One of the differences was that most of the students were young, in their 20s or 30s, wanted to learn for work reasons as well as general interest, and the college had a planned syllabus which they always followed, as well as a weekly class which just covered 25 or so characters with common radicals.
Such a difference. At least I began to recognise characters and starts progressing in my learning.
Now I’ve retired we’ve moved to China and now I’m back with Rosettastone everyday together with my iPhone. On that I can write the characters and use Pleco’s wonderful app all the time.
It’s only been in the last month or so that I’ve discovered WrittenChinese.Com . I particularly enjoy the community/interaction aspect of their web site and apps. To me it fits very well with Rosettastone and Pleco.
I’m a slow learner and not a language scholar (failed French at school, only passing it by going to evening classes in my 30s). I have a long way to go to catch up with my wife. Of course I have the advantage of a Chinese speaking wife but also the challenge of her regional pronunciation to overcome. 2nd and 3rd tones are particularly difficult for me to recognise, and of course being able to remember the correct tones is a struggle – probably one that’s common to everyone coming from a non tonal background.
But I think I’m progressing.
Will lives in Changsha, Hunan with his wife Yvonne and their cats! You can check out Will’s blog here for more stories about his life in China!
If you have a story about coming to China and learning Chinese like Will’s, you can join our User Spotlight here!